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Injured worker entitled to benefits for related mental illness: Court


A surgical assistant disabled from a compensable back injury is also entitled to workers compensation benefits for a related mental illness, the Tennessee Supreme Court Special Workers' Compensation Appeals Panel ruled Thursday.

The case of Stephen Vowell v. St. Thomas Hospital involved the surgical assistant who slipped on a wet floor while moving a patient. The 2007 accident rendered him permanently and totally disabled, the opinion states.

A trial court ruled that along with benefits for his physical injuries, the employee was entitled to medical benefits for treatment of related severe depression.

But in an appeal to the Tennessee Supreme Court Special Workers' Compensation Appeals Panel, the hospital asserted that the trial court erred.

Among other arguments, the employer insisted that Mr. Vowell's depression was not compensable because it did not arise from his employment.

The employer argued that based on Mr. Vowell's admission to a mental health institute and his testimony, his mental problems resulted from his loss of employment.

But the Tennessee Supreme Court Special Workers' Compensation Appeals Panel said that it had “no difficulty in distinguishing Mr. Vowell's mental injury from one caused solely by a loss of employment.”

It therefore affirmed the trial court's judgment and remanded the case to the trial court for proceedings, consistent with its opinion.

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