PSYCHOLOGICAL INJURY

PSYCHOLOGICAL INJURY BY ACCIDENT

Smith v. County of Arlington, Va. App. Record No. 1902-10-4 (April 19, 2011).

The Virginia Court of Appeals affirmed the Commission’s finding that the Claimant did not suffer a compensable psychological injury by accident. On March 30, 2009, Claimant was employed as a deputy sheriff assigned to the medical unit of the jail. As she was making her rounds, she went into an inmate’s cell and found the inmate not moving and detected a strong odor of urine. The inmate was unresponsive and the skin was blue with dried white foam around the mouth. A nurse and another deputy sheriff arrived minutes later and Claimant was instructed on how to perform a sternum rub in order to attempt to revive the inmate, which she began to do. EMT’s arrived shortly after and took the inmate to the hospital.

Claimant sought assistance from a counselor that same day. She then began treating with a psychiatrist and continued ongoing psychiatric treatment. Although the psychiatrist characterized Claimant’s anxiety and disability as excessive, it was sincere. Claimant was diagnosed with acute stress disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Claimant filed a claim for benefits and alleged a psychological injury without an accompanying physical injury. To be compensable, a purely psychological injury without a physical injury must be causally related to a sudden fright or shock arising in the course of employment. Claimant’s claim was denied because as a deputy sheriff assigned to the medical unit of the jail, she was trained in first aid, CPR and AED use, and it was not unexpected that a medical emergency may arise to which she would need to respond. The events leading up to the psychological injury did not meet the requisite standard.

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