Alaska Prison Guard Wins Workers’ Comp Case

November 25, 2009

The Alaska Supreme Court ruled a former prison guard at the Anchorage Jail deserves workers’ compensation for the psychological problems he suffered after being threatened by a convicted killer 15 years ago.

The court referred Carl Kelly’s case back to the state’s Workers’ Compensation Board to decide if the damage was temporary or permanent.

If the board decides the damage was long-lasting, the 60-year-old Kelly could recoup lost income back to the early part of this decade, when his workers’ compensation benefits ended.

Alaska law allows claims for mental-stress injury as long as it is extraordinary and unusual. But since the statute was written in 1988. it hasn’t been clear what that meant.

With the Kelly case, the court clarified the law, saying what matters is the confrontation was not just another day at work.

The state Department of Corrections argued that every prison guard expects a certain level of trouble from inmates, and what Kelly experienced was no different from what others face.

Kelly, however, said the threat went beyond what he expected from the job and what a reasonable person would expect, according to the court’s decision last month.

In the 1994 incident, an inmate intoxicated on hair spray confronted Kelly with a sharpened pencil, according to Kelly’s testimony. The prisoner said he was going to poke Kelly’s eyes then stab him to death.

Kelly was too afraid to call for help, which finally arrived after he didn’t answer calls on his radio, he testified.

Three weeks later, Kelly checked into a hospital with high blood pressure and chest pain. A physician said he was suffering from severe anxiety about his safety at and away from work.

Kelly received workers’ compensation for about five years and retrained as a computer technician, a job he held for only one year.

In 2000, the state decided it would no longer pay workers’ compensation, according to paperwork filed in the case.

Kelly challenged the decision and claimed he could not return to work in any job, the paperwork said. After losing several decisions, Kelly appealed to Alaska’s highest court.

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