Tennessee Mattress Store Manager Prevails in PTSD Claim After Encounter with Purse Snatching Customers

The manager of a Tennessee mattress store, who alleged that she sustained a psychological injury (“PTSD”) when she pursued two persons into the employer’s store parking lot after they had stolen her her purse under a desk near the front of the the store, sustained a compensable mental injury, held the Special Workers’ Compensation Appeals Panel of the Supreme Court of Tennessee [Mattress Firm, Inc. v. Mudryk, 2015 Tenn. LEXIS 689 (Aug. 24, 2015)]. Noting that the trial court had awarded benefits after it utilized the so-called “street risk” rule, the panel indicated the court’s analysis was incorrect, although the court arrived at the correct determination.

Street Risk Rule

Under the street risk rule, off-premises injuries may be compensable if they arise from a job’s indiscriminate exposure to the general public. The panel indicated that since the employer’s parking lot was part of its premises, there was no need to resort to the street risk rule. Citing Larson’s Workers’ Compensation Law, current § 13.04, the panel held that the manager’s PTSD injury arose out of and in the course of her employment since the incident had an “inherent connection” to the employment.

Other Factors Tying Injuries to the Employment

Other factors tied the incident to the employment. At the employer’s various mattress stores, employees were not provided a secure place to store their personal belongings while they were on duty. They typically placed personal items such as purses under the manager’s desk at the front of the store. The store did not even provide a safe for cash receipts from customers. Evidence further suggested that a few months earlier, the two robbers had perpetrated a similar robbery at another of the employer’s stores. The employee contended she had $450 of personal cash in her purse, as well as keys to several of the employer’s stores. She acknowledged that her decision to chase the robbers into the parking lot was somewhat impulsive. Parenthetically, it should be noted that while the employee sustained some physical injuries when she reached through the partially opened window of the robber’s vehicle to retrieve her purse and was dragged a number of feet as the robbers quickly drove away, the employee’s claim only related to her alleged PTSD condition.

The panel indicated the facts in the case were analogous to those in Beck v. State, 779 S.W.2d 367 (Tenn. 1989), where the Court affirmed an award of workers’ compensation benefits to a driver’s license examiner who was sexually assaulted at her place of employment and suffered mental injuries.

The panel noted that the employer scoffed at the suggested motivation for the employee’s actions and pointed to the testimony of its Division Vice President that the employer had an unwritten corporate policy that employees should not chase robbers stealing from a store or put themselves at risk. The panel said the trial court was nevertheless free to credit the employee’s testimony about the partial motivation behind her actions, and also free to discredit the testimony of the employer’s representative, particularly where the employer was unable to show that the employee had been made aware of such a policy. The panel added that it would be ironic for the employer to create a situation in which employees were left little choice but to leave their personal belongings in an insecure location during working hours but were prohibited under employer policies from taking action to retrieve such personal items in the foreseeable event of a theft.

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