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Sep. 22, 2011
A liquor store manager prodded at gunpoint and bound to a chair by a masked robber is not entitled to workers compensation benefits for a “psychic” injury, a Pennsylvania appellate court has ruled.
Because the claimant’s psychic injury resulted from “normal working conditions,” the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania ruled 4-3 on Sept. 21 to reverse a previous finding by the state’s Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board.
The board in PA Liquor Control Board vs. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (Gregory Kochanowicz) had agreed with a workers comp judge that Kochanowicz had proven he was subjected to abnormal working conditions and that workplace violence caused his psychic suffering.
In Pennsylvania, claimants alleging a psychic injury must prove that they were exposed to abnormal working conditions.
The appellate court, however, ruled that the liquor store manager should have expected to be a potential robbery victim.
The April 2008 robbery at the Morrisville, Pennsylvania, business occurred while the claimant worked the night shift. Neither he nor a co-worker was physically injured, the court opinion states.
After the robbery, a psychologist diagnosed Kochanowicz as suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and he sought total disability benefits.
His employer, however, denied the claim, arguing that he did not sustain a compensable work-related injury.
Kochanowicz testified that after the robber pointed two guns at the back of his head, he thought about the incident every day and he suffered disrupted sleep, nightmares, anxiety, stress and had difficulty interacting with his family.
Despite taking anti-anxiety drugs, Kochanowicz testified he could not return to work because he feared a robbery would happen again.
But the employer testified that it had a training program to help employees deal with workplace violence, regularly offered refresher courses and provided literature on handling robberies.
The employer said it offered the training because employees at its various liquor stores were subjected to an average of 15 robberies per year as well as thefts and fights.
While the workers comp judge and the board found that armed robbery was an abnormal working condition, the appellate court majority disagreed and reversed the ruling. The appellate court said Kochanowicz could have anticipated being robbed because of statistics presented by the employer and because four nearby liquor stores had been robbed recently.
In a dissent, however, three judges argued, among other things, that the majority overemphasized “the role played by the foreseeability of any given workplace event to transform it into a normal working condition.”
Roberto Ceniceros writes for Business Insurance, a sister publication of Workforce Management. To comment, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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