MO Workers Comp: Supreme Court upholds “unusual and extraordinary” test
September 12, 2017, the MO Supreme Court issues its ruling in Mantia v. MO Dept. of Transportation.
Quick background: Mantia’s job as an accident investigator often exposed her to bodies of those were killed in automobile accidents. This is what is called a “mental – mental” claim…no physical injury, but mental injury arising out of mental stress.
The Missouri Workers Comp Act requires claimants to prove that the stress they encountered was “unusual and extraordinary”. Prior caselaw in Missouri required claimants to prove this “unusual and extraordinary” stress by comparing the claimant’s job to another co-worker who performs the same job. Unless the claimant’s job stress was unusual and extraordinary when compared to other similar jobs, courts have held that the claim is not compensable.
In Mantia, the ALJ found the claim non-compensable because there was no evidence that Mantia’s job was more stressful than any other similar employee in a similar job position. The Industrial Commission reversed, finding the claim compensable. The Court of Appeals affirmed the Commission’s decision, stating:
“the requirement of comparing the claimant’s stress to that of similarly situated employees is not stated in the statute’s plain and unambiguous terms.”
SUPREME COURT DECISION
The Missouri Supreme Court, in the attached decision, reversed the Commission and the Court of Appeals and denied the compensability of the claim. The MO Supreme Court concluded:
“There was no evidence presented in this case that Employee’s work-related stress was objectively “extraordinary and unusual” as statutorily required. Employee undoubtedly found her employment to be extremely stressful. Yet, an award of workers’ compensation benefits must be based upon what Employee can objectively prove, which is not merely what she subjectively thought and felt. Given the confusion as to the appropriate test for meeting the statutory objective standard for proof of extraordinary and unusual work-related stress, it is unclear whether Employee would have been able to present evidence sufficient to meet the statutory requirements.”
The Supreme Court went on to validate the practice of comparing claimants’ job duties to similarly situation employees in order to determine whether the claimants’ stress is unusual and extraordinary.
Finally, the Supreme Court remanded the case back to the Commission to see if additional evidence is needed to compare Mantia’s job stress with that of similar employees. This is fine, so long as the objective comparison standard is still utilized.
WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT?
Had the MO Supreme Court upheld the award to Mantia, it would have opened the floodgates of mental-mental psych claims in Missouri. If this award had been upheld, the only standard a claimant would have had to prove was that he/she “felt stressed” from their job. Who DOESN’T feel stress from their jobs?
So long as the objective comparison standard is upheld, as the Supreme Court ultimately did, we can better separate the legitimate from the non-legitimate claims (although even this is often difficult!).