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Workers comp may cover suicide attempts

Workers' compensation may not cover suicide even though several experts argue that there may be a connection between a work-related physical injury and a long and difficult recovery process that can lead to the taking of one's own life. Last month, in fact, a federal court in Hawaii ruled that a worker was entitled to compensation benefits for an attempted suicide attempt.

The claimant in that case began working for a Hawaiian-based marine company in 2001. At work, he fell off a barge and landed on the steel floor of a dry dock. He suffered many injuries including blunt head trauma. Two years later, he attempted suicide by shooting himself in the head. He argued that this attempted suicide was related to his fall and stress over his workers' compensation claim.

According to expert psychiatric testimony presented at his compensation hearing, the workers suffered from major depressive disorder from the trauma of the accident and long-term pain and stress. The federal court eventually upheld the award of benefits under the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act.

Many experts find that there may be an emotional reaction, known as a functional overlay where physical injuries are suffered at work. Long-term care, substantial pain and multiple surgeries lead to an emotional reaction to long-term recovery that causes an emotional state ending in attempted suicide. Suicide should be compensated when it was caused by an uncontrollable compulsion starting from work-related physical injury, according to these experts.

However, there may be times when the worker had an existing condition, such as severe depression or a mood disorder, unrelated to his employment but that he demonstrates at work. The employment may not play a part in a suicide but may be the place where the attempt is made. Qualified professionals should provide advice on compensation when this occurs.

The most effective prevention of these tragedies is providing quality and extensive health care after the injury and early in the workers' compensation process. This can help lessen the severity of physical injuries that lead to suicide. An attorney can assist injured workers seek compensation under the LHWCA. An experienced lawyer can help workers follow the legal procedure and assure that they receive this care.

Source: Business Insurance, "Limited comp coverage available for suicide risks," By Joyce Famakinwa, Aug. 30, 2017

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