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Bus driver's morbid obesity, PTSD did not render him fully disabled

Posted On: Jan. 10, 2020 12:59 PM CST

bus driver

A bus driver who was injured in an assault by a passenger failed to show that his psychological injuries rendered him completely unable to work or that his morbid obesity was causally related to his work injury.

In the Matter of the Claim of Robert Rapaglia v. New York City Transit Authority, the Supreme Court of New York, Appellate Division, Third Department in Albany unanimously affirmed on Thursday a New York City Workers Compensation Board decision that the man had a 60% loss of earning capacity but was not fully disabled. 

Robert Rapaglia worked as a bus driver for the New York City Transit Authority when he sustained injuries from an assault by a passenger in 2015, which included injuries to his face and neck, post-traumatic stress disorder and major depression. He received ongoing treatment and did not return to work — in August 2016 his employment was terminated.

In 2017, a workers compensation law judge determined that Mr. Rapaglia had a permanent partial disability and calculated a 60% loss of wage-earning capacity. The New York City Workers Compensation Board agreed, and Mr. Rapaglia appealed, arguing that the board failed to consider his obesity and limited education and work experience in calculating his percentage of lost wage-earning capacity.

The appellate court affirmed the board’s decision. The court noted that in rating the severity of a medical impairment due to PTSD or other causally-related psychiatric conditions, “the evaluation should include the impact of the psychiatric impairment on functional ability, including activities of daily living."

A treating physician found that Mr. Rapaglia, physically, could return to work — including heavy work — or that he was limited by his morbid obesity with a weight exceeding 500 pounds.

Regarding his psychiatric conditions, which included a diagnosis of PTSD and major depressive disorder, medical experts differed on the extent of his disability. One psychiatrist opined that he had a partial, mild psychiatric disability that allowed him to perform work, but not operate a bus. The psychiatrist also found that his depression was attributable to his “very serious morbid obesity.”

Mr. Rapaglia’s treating psychologist, however, determined that he had permanent total disability, but the board found that the psychologist failed to provide “credible medical evidence” to support the conclusion that his overall medical condition rendered him incapable of gainful employment.

The court held that while Mr. Rapaglia could not return to bus driving, it could not conclude that the board erred in finding that he was not incapable of other work, nor could it conclude that his obesity was causally related to the workplace injury.