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Sunday, July 21, 2024 | Back issues
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Trooper’s Stress After Accident Merits Benefits

(CN) - A Pennsylvania state trooper whose car struck and killed a mentally ill woman deserved workers' compensation benefits, the state Supreme Court ruled.

After 12 years of service to the Pennsylvania State Police, Philip Payes was driving on Interstate 81 at 5:45 a.m. in November 2006 when a woman wearing all black ran in front of his car.

She flipped over it and landed on the highway, where Phillips attempted mouth-to-mouth resuscitation while trying to keep other cars from hitting them.

The woman died at the scene. Before the accident, she had been reported to be walking up and down Interstate 81.

Payes tried to return to work in January 2007, but he only lasted four days before he was overcome by stress and anxiety.

Though the state police denied Payes workers' compensation for post-traumatic stress disorder, a Workers' Compensation judge reversed and granted Payes' benefits, stating that the incident was unusual and not something he should be used to in his line of work.

The Workers' Compensation Appeals Board reversed again, however, stating "we cannot agree that this incident constitutes an abnormal working condition given the nature of [Payes'] stressful and perilous profession."

Agreeing with that finding, the Commonwealth Court noted, "indeed, it is not beyond the realm of possibility for an officer to have to take someone's life."

But a majority of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court last week called that argument a "false analogy" with "no relation to what happened in this case."

"Had appellant suffered physical injuries as a result of the incident, there would have been no question that his physical injuries and resulting disability would have been covered under the [Workers Compensation] Act," Justice Seamus McCaffery wrote for the majority.

Two justices joined McCaffery's opinion in whole, and one justice did not participate in the decision of the case. Justice J. Michael Eakin dissented fully.

"The fact appellant never thought an event 'like this' could happen, or that he 'never thought he would be involved in someone's death' does not make the event an abnormal working condition," Eakin wrote.

In a concurring and dissenting opinion, Chief Justice Ronald Castille agreed with the majority that Payes should receive benefits.

He agreed with Eakin, however, that the standard of review should be a question of law, not "a mixed question of law and fact."

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