Depression Comes from Foot Injury at Work, Pa. Court Decides

Frank Ferreri

Harrisburg, PA ( – While a home improvement company wanted its doctor’s testimony to set the boundaries on what a plumber’s at-work injury involved, ultimately a workers’ compensation judge’s decision took the evidence a different way.

As the court explained in Lowe’s Home Centers Inc. v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board, No. 403 C.D. 2020 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 12/04/20, unpublished), the WCJ followed Pennsylvania law in crediting the plumber’s medical evidence that indicated his depression issues were tied to a foot injury he experienced at work.

Foot, Psychological Injuries

The plumber experienced the injury when a fork truck ran over his foot. The company accepted his work injury, and the plumber missed six weeks of work before returning to work four hours per day until he could work a full schedule.

Later, the plumber reported a worsening of his condition and also asserted that the company failed to acknowledge a psychological injury related to the accident. At a hearing before a WCJ, the plumber testified that he saw two doctors for psychological treatment and had symptoms including sleeplessness and crying “at the drop of a hat.”

One of the doctors diagnosed the plumber with general anxiety disorder and depressive disorder and opined that the work injury made the anxiety worse. In response, the company presented evidence from its doctor, who explained that the plumber did not require psychological treatment or need work restrictions.

The WCJ sided with the plumber, concluding that his work injury should be expanded to include neuropathic pain in the foot as well as a diagnosis of depression. The WCJ also determined that the plumber was entitled to reinstatement of his total temporary disability benefits.

WCJ Authority

The company appealed to Pennsylvania’s appeals board, and the board upheld the WCJ’s decision, prompting the company to take the case to court to challenge the inclusion of depression as a work-related injury.

Under Pennsylvania law, it is up to the WCJ to make credibility determinations, and law in the commonwealth places “complete authority over questions of credibility, conflicting medical evidence, and evidentiary weight” in the WCJ’s hands.

The court agreed with the board that the WCJ carried out this responsibility adequately.

“The WCJ’s decision clearly delineated the evidence presented during the litigation of the matter and explained her reasoning for accepting or rejecting [it],” the court wrote. “This, in turn, allowed the board and this court to engage in meaningful appellate review.”

Thus, the court affirmed the board’s ruling, meaning that the WCJ’s award stood.

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