Home > Uncategorized > Subjective Perception of Stress Sufficient for Stroke to be Industrial

Subjective Perception of Stress Sufficient for Stroke to be Industrial

Hello dear readers!  Your humble blogger welcomes you, once more, with this question: do you ever get stressed at your job?  Do you ever get tired from work?  Do you ever think your employees are looking at your… WITH THEIR EYES?!?  Once, a co-worker stopped by your humble blogger’s office and asked if I wanted a glass of water.  When our eyes met, I KNEW that what he was really saying is that he wants me to drown…

Crazy, no?  I’m so glad I have my readers to vent to… especially those that haven’t figured out how the “unsubscribe” button on their e-mails works.

Anywho, I bring you the case of Banuelos v. Acorn Engineering Co., a recent writ-denied case.  All kidding aside, applicant had suffered a pretty serious stroke, which he claimed was the result of stress at work.  Defendant argued that it was error for the WCJ to find industrial causation.

By way of factual background, applicant polished 7-8 tubs per day, and would help co-workers meet their quotas when he was done with his.  Apparently, he felt a lot of pressure and stress from the demands of the job, and, although he was never threatened with any sort of employment consequences himself, feared punishment as he had seen other employees fired for poor performance.

However, testimony from applicant’s supervisors revealed that the employees he thought were fired actually left for Texas to start their own venture; the overtime records reflected only four hours or so in the 5 months prior to his stroke; and the supervisors denied any set quota or having fired anyone in the last ten years.

Defendant argued that the treating physicians conclusions regarding causation could not be considered substantial evidence because the facts reported to the physician by the applicant did not match those to which he testified at trial.

However, the relevant medical experts and the WCAB commissioners both noted that the significant issue here was not the objective stress of the job, but applicant’s own perception of stress.  Because his perception of work-stress caused the stroke, the WCAB concurred with the WCJ that the stroke was industrial.

Defendant argued that stress is an injury psychiatric in nature, and thus must be caused by actual events of employment.  (See Labor Code section 3208.3)  And, as my well-traveled and discerning readers will recall, the Court of Appeal already held that an emotional response to a Personnel Action falls under the scope of a good-faith personnel action.

The commissioners rejected this argument as well – while acknowledging the higher threshold for psyche injuries, the panel noted “there is no similar requirement for physical injuries caused by stress.  The only requirement is that the work-related stress be a contributing cause to applicant’s injury.”

Your humble blogger can only answer this response with a few crack-pot ideas:

Labor Code section 3600(a)(3) requires proximate cause for the injury to be compensable – “[w]here the injury is proximately caused by the employment, either with or without negligence.”  Could one argue that a person that irrationally or unreasonably perceives stress to the point of stroke in an environment where such stress should not or does not exist, could just as easily have similar stroke from family life, traffic, or any other non-industrial activity which can be irrationally perceived as stressful?  Don’t people get strokes from stress outside of work too?

Additionally, we have somewhat of an “eggshell” applicant here.  There is a writ denied panel case in which an applicant’s industrially-caused pneumonia triggered a pre-existing and previously dormant common variable immune deficiency, necessitating lifetime medical treatment.  The WCAB reversed the WCJ’s reliance on the eggshell plaintiff rule, instead finding that something would have eventually triggered the pre-existing condition.  Accordingly, if an applicant is inclined to misperceive an average work-site as particularly stressful, wouldn’t the same be true for any non-work events?

What do you think, dear readers?  Should the subjective deviation from objectively reasonable responses be compensable under comp?

Categories: Uncategorized Tags:
  1. No comments yet.
  1. No trackbacks yet.