Employee Who Was Trapped in Elevator Denied Workers’ Compensation Benefits

By | June 13, 2024

A health insurance company employee who was trapped in an elevator for about 30 minutes has been denied workers’ compensation benefits.

The employee did not suffer any physical injury while she was trapped in the elevator but claimed she later suffered psychological effects including insomnia, headaches, and thoughts of feeling trapped.

The Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission (VWCC) recently affirmed the denial of benefits in March by a deputy commissioner.

Under Virginia law, for a purely psychological injury to be compensable as an injury by accident, it must be causally related to a physical injury or be causally related to an obvious “sudden shock or fright” arising in the course of employment. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an example of a psychological injury that might be covered.

A deputy commissioner denied the employee’s benefits for psychological injury on the grounds that she did not sustain a compensable injury by accident arising out of or in the course of her employment. Her being stuck in an elevator neither related to any physical injury nor did it constitute a “sudden shock or fright” as recognized by Virginia workers’ compensation law, the deputy commissioner ruled.

According to the commission’s documents, the claimant testified that on September 5, 2023 she entered the elevator, the door closed, but the elevator did not operate. She said neither the interior panic button nor telephone worked. The claimant attempted to contact her supervisor and call 911 on her cellphone without success. She eventually spoke with her supervisor, received emergency assistance, and exited the elevator after approximately 30 minutes. The claimant felt upset, and she “wanted to get outside and get air.”

On October 13, 2023, she filed under workers’ compensation seeking medical benefits and periods of temporary total disability benefits. Her employer raised numerous defenses against the claim, including that she did not sustain a compensable injury by accident arising out of or in the course of her employment.

She twice sought medical attention after the incident. She also began treatment with a licensed clinical social worker. However, neither her medical records not her social worker’s report mention the elevator incident, according to the commission.

The deputy commissioner cited the lack of evidence in his denial. “The medical evidence in the file does not specifically relate the claimant’s anxiety to this event,” the deputy wrote. “Given this evidence, the Commission finds that she did not suffer a ‘sudden shock or fright’ that arose out of and in the course of her employment and she did not otherwise suffer any physical injury to which the psychological injury is causally related.”

At most, the deputy added, “her psychological injuries are related to being in a stuck elevator, and the Commission finds that the evidence in this case does not constitute a sudden shock or fright as contemplated by Virginia law.”

In affirming the deputy’s decision on appeal, the full VWCC rejected the claimant’s attempt to offer new evidence that it said could have been provided to the deputy at the claimant’s original hearing but was not. The VWCC denied her appeal because it said she had not identified any error in the deputy’s specific findings of fact or conclusions of law.

Topics Workers' Compensation Talent

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