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girl dealing with mental healthAs medical science and society have come to recognize the validity of mental health illnesses, workers’ compensation law has also changed. North Carolina’s workers’ compensation system provides benefits to workers who suffer mental illness because of their working conditions. This includes benefits for work-related post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues.

If you have received a mental illness diagnosis and are unable to perform your job, you may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits, including paid medical care and partial replacement of lost income. However, workers’ compensation cases based on mental illness are still extremely challenging to prove. To qualify for benefits, you must provide evidence that your job or an incident at work caused your illness. For the best opportunity to collect benefits, you should seek the guidance of a Raleigh workers’ compensation lawyer.

The workers’ compensation lawyers at Younce, Vtipil, Baznik & Banks, P.A., are experienced advocates for injured workers. Contact us online or at (919) 661-9000 to discuss your questions and legal options with a Raleigh workers’ compensation attorney. We offer a free claim review.

What Are the Common Types of Work-Related Mental Illnesses in North Carolina?

Many employers realize the importance of helping workers address issues such as depression, anxiety, and addiction. Some offer programs that seek to increase awareness about mental illness and encourage more employees to seek treatment. Other employers are not as progressive.

Some workers worry about negative reactions if they seek help for a mental health issue at work. However, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) gives employees the right to ask for reasonable accommodations for their mental health conditions to enable them to perform their essential job duties. It is illegal to punish or terminate an employee for seeking workers’ compensation benefits; however, employers are savvy enough to not list this as a reason, which can make proving that the employee was terminated for pursuing workers’ compensation benefits difficult to prove – especially in an employment at-will state.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, the most common mental illnesses include:

  • Anxiety Disorders – Clinical anxiety is fear of future events that could be or is age-inappropriate or out of proportion to the situation, and that hinders the individual’s ability to function normally. Because individuals who suffer from anxiety disorders often try to avoid situations that trigger or worsen their symptoms, this may harm their job performance.
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – Experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event, such as a violent injury, an assault, or military combat, can lead to a person suffering from PTSD. Symptoms include intense, disturbing thoughts and feelings related to the experience that last long after the situation has ended, as well as sadness, fear, or anger. Individuals may also become estranged from others.
  • Depression – Depression affects how an individual feels, thinks, and acts and can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems. Symptoms that will affect job performance include lack of energy, feelings of worthlessness, and difficulty thinking, concentrating, or making decisions. A person who is severely depressed may be unable to get out of bed.
  • Addiction/Substance Abuse – For some people, the use of alcohol or drugs takes over their lives. Addiction is a complex brain disease manifested by compulsive use of the addict’s “drug of choice” despite the harmful consequences. People with addiction disorders may forsake jobs and personal relationships to feed their habits.
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How Can You Get Workers’ Comp for Mental Health Problems?

In North Carolina, businesses that employ three or more people are required to carry workers’ compensation coverage to protect employees. A covered employee qualifies for workers’ compensation benefits once he or she is out of work for more than seven days due to an injury or illness “arising out of and in the course of the employment.”

The North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Act (N.C.G.S. §97-53) specifies several diseases and conditions that “shall be deemed to be occupational diseases” and would make a worker eligible for benefits. The list includes a catch-all provision, which states occupational diseases to be “[a]ny disease … proven to be due to causes and conditions which are characteristic of and peculiar to a particular trade, occupation or employment, but excluding all ordinary diseases of life to which the general public is equally exposed outside of the employment.”

This has been interpreted as requiring three elements to prove that a disabling mental health condition qualifies as an occupational injury or illness. The three elements are:

  • The condition must be characteristic of the benefit applicant’s type of employment
  • Doing the job exposes the worker to a greater risk of developing the condition or disease than a member of the general public faces
  • There must be proof of a causal link between the job and the condition

Often, a worker suffers psychological harm as a result of a traumatic physical injury on the job. Some people react to extreme physical trauma in a manner similar to PTSD, which can lead to or be accompanied by anxiety, depression, and/or substance abuse.

Examples of workplace accidents or injuries that might be psychologically shocking include:

  • Falling from a great height
  • A compound fracture
  • A serious laceration
  • Traumatic amputation
  • Back / spinal injury causing paralysis
  • Excavation cave-in and entrapment
  • Entrapment by machinery
  • Electrical shock
  • Fire and explosions
  • Acts of violence
  • Severe scald/burn injuries

When these physical injuries lead to a loss of work time and require medical care, the worker might be eligible to file a workers’ compensation claim and pursue compensation for lost wages and paid medical treatment. When an accompanying psychological injury requires medical treatment and rest, the injured worker might have a right to claim workers’ comp benefits during this period of care and recuperation, too.

The Raleigh workers’ compensation lawyers Younce, Vtipil, Baznik & Banks, P.A., understand the types of medical records, witness statements, accident reports, and other evidence needed to build a strong case for workers’ compensation benefits if a mental illness has put you out of work.

How Our Lawyers Can Help You Claim Workers’ Comp for Mental Health

Most injured workers enter the workers’ compensation system with little or no understanding of the workers’ comp program or the benefits available. Meanwhile, their employer has its human resources personnel, an insurance carrier, and the insurance company’s lawyers, who all deal with workers’ comp claims on a regular basis. The employee, who is also dealing with their injury, is at a disadvantage if the employer or insurer disputes their claim.

The Raleigh workers’ compensation attorneys at Younce, Vtipil, Baznik & Banks, P.A., are committed to helping our clients secure the benefits they deserve after suffering psychological injuries on the job. Partners Chip Younce and David E. Vtipil are Board Certified Specialists in Workers’ Compensation Law. Mr. Vtipil has also been named among the nation’s Top 100 Injured Workers’ Attorneys and has been selected for inclusion in The Best Lawyers in America in the field of Workers’ Compensation Law.

We can help make sure you get your claim started by promptly notifying your employer of your diagnosis and/or injury and your need for medical care. Typically, you should do this in writing within 30 days of your accident or diagnosis.

Upon being notified, your employer should file a claim on your behalf. If the employer does not initiate the claim, a workers’ compensation lawyer can submit a Form 18 Notice of Accident to the North Carolina Industrial Commission on your behalf and send a copy to your employer.

Within a few weeks of your claim being filed, your employer’s workers’ compensation insurance carrier should either begin paying benefits or deny your claim. Benefits should include:

  • Payment of all related medical bills
  • Payment of about two-thirds of your average weekly wage while you are disabled as defined by the North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Act

If you are permanently disabled and cannot return to work, you could receive benefits for up to 500 weeks. Benefits for totally and permanently disabled workers include disability payments and coverage of future medical expenses.

If your employer ignores your claim for workers’ compensation benefits, orders you back to work, or threatens your employment, we will stand by you. We can compile the required evidence and represent you in a hearing before the North Carolina Industrial Commission. We will present a case asking the NCIC to order all of the workers’ compensation benefits you are due.  While there is never a guarantee as to the results of any case, we will work as hard as we can to help you.

With your Younce, Vtipil, Baznik & Banks, P.A., attorney managing your claim, you can focus on getting well.

Younce Vtipil Baznik & Banks personal injury law team

Contact Our Experienced NC Workers’ Compensation Attorneys

Mental health issues arising from a work-related injury or conditions of your employment may be compensable under North Carolina’s workers’ compensation insurance program if they prevent you from working. The Raleigh workers’ compensation attorneys at Younce, Vtipil, Baznik & Banks, P.A., are here to help you. We will stand up for your rights if you or a loved one has been forced out of work by psychological trauma or mental illness related to your job.

We understand the challenges of getting workers’ compensation benefits for mental health medical expenses. Our attorneys take pride in offering clients personalized attention and compassion. It will cost you nothing to discuss your workers’ compensation claim with a workers’ compensation lawyer. Call us now at (919) 661-9000 or contact us online for a free review of your case and advice about your legal options.

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