New York Workers' Compensation Ruling Roundup - March 29, 2024


This week the 3rd Department released four new cases with a particular focus on psychological injuries. Learn more below.

First is Anderson v. City of Yonkers, the 3rd Dept. examined the way the Board reviews psychological injuries. In Anderson, the issue was whether the exposure to Covid-19 alone, without manifesting Covid-19, could be compensable as a psychological injury. Anderson reversed the Board’s decision to disallow the claim based on what the 3rd Dept. believed was a different application of the law as to the impact of exposure to Covid-19. The claimant was a teacher who alleged that when she returned to the classroom after the first wave shutdown period ended, was exposed to Covid-19 from another teacher in the building. Despite the fact that the claimant did not test positive for Covid-19, the 3rd Dept. held that the Board needed to use the same test to determine whether a psychological injury was caused by the disease as it uses to determine physical injuries. The claimant argued that she developed psychological trauma from the anxiety and fear of contracting Covid-19. The 3rd Dept. remanded the case for the Board to evaluate:

1) Whether the claimant had a specific exposure to Covid-19 or there was prevalence in the work environment so as to present an elevated risk; and

2) To consider the claimant’s particular vulnerabilities to determine if there was a causal connection between the injury and the event [here the exposure]. 

In Matthews v. NYCTA, the 3rd Dept., reversed its own decision from July 20, 2023, based on the reasoning in Anderson. The court originally upheld the Board’s decision finding that the risks associated with fear of Covid-19 were not unique to the workplace. But, in line with Anderson, the 3rd Dept. reversed course, and found that the Board was actually using a tougher standard for Covid-19 exposure to psychological injuries than physical injuries. Here the claimant, a train conductor, alleged anxiety from not being provided adequate personal protective equipment.

In McLaurin v. NYCTA, the 3rd Dept, in what was the most striking example of how Anderson will play out, affirmed the Board’s decision to disallow a Covid-19 claim based on failure to prove that she contracted the virus, and that she could not have a consequential psychological claim from the virus. But, reversed and remanded the Board’s decision disallowing the claim for psychology injuries based on an exposure to Covid-19, regardless of contracting the virus in line with Anderson. Here, a train operator alleged that she had contracted Covid-19 from work, and that she had psychological trauma from the existence of Covid-19 at her work. The 3rd Dept. remanded for a determination on whether the prevalence of Covid-19 posed an elevated risk of exposure, which may be considered in determining causal connection to a purely psychological injury, regardless of whether she contracted the virus.

Spillers v. Health & Hospital Corp., involved a pro se claimant who filed multiple claims for various physical and psychological injuries working as rehab counsel for a hospital. The issue before the court was whether his alleged depression, psychosis and post-traumatic stress was caused by a co-worker who verbally attacked him. The Board found that the verbal altercation between the claimant and his co-worker was not within the course and scope of employment, based primarily on the credibility of claimant’s testimony and that claimant failed to obtain the availability of his psychiatrist to testify. The 3rd Dept. held “that the record as a whole supports the conclusion that the December 2013 incident amounted to an ordinary dispute among coworkers to which the employer appropriately responded, and that the incident was not so improper or extraordinary so as to constitute a workplace accident under the Workers' Compensation Law”.

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