New York Court Affirms PTSD Award to Physician’s Assistant Threatened by Surgeon During Surgical Procedure

A New York appellate court has affirmed a decision of the state’s Workers’ Compensation Board that awarded workers compensation benefits for a stress-related injury sustained by a cardiothoracic physician’s assistant (“PA”) who contended she was threatened with physical violence by a surgeon during an hours-long procedure in the operating room [Lucke v. Ellis Hosp., 2014 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 4924 (July 3, 2014)]. The PA sought psychiatric treatment shortly thereafter and filed a claim for PTSD and adjustment disorder. Following a hearing, the Workers’ Compensation Board concluded that claimant had sustained a compensable injury due to work-related stress.

The employer contended that the surgeon’s verbal threat could not have given rise to a compensable stress claim, noting mitigating factors such as the presence of others in the operating room and the PA’s familiarity with the surgeon’s “difficult” personality. Acknowledging that in New York, in order for a mental injury premised on work-related stress to be compensable, the stress must be greater than that which usually occurs in the normal work environment, the appellate court indicated the Board’s decision was supported by the evidence. The Board found that threats of physical violence made by the surgeon constituted greater stress than that which normally occurs in similar work environments. The court said it could not “reject the Board’s choice simply because a contrary determination would have been reasonable.”

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