Corrections Officer Assaults: Awarded Workers’ Compensation
The case involved a corrections officer at a Missouri prison. While on duty, she was attacked by one of the inmates. Because of a locked door, guards could not stop the assault for more than five minutes.
The psychological trauma of the assault proved to be severe. The worker received psychiatric treatment for depression and anxiety after the assault, and even tried to commit suicide several times. She was diagnosed with PTSD, a generalized anxiety disorder, and agoraphobia that made it difficult for her to leave her house.
However, she also had a history of depression and anxiety symptoms. Testifying doctors found that she was permanently and totally disabled, and that the assault was the major – but not the only – cause for it.
The administrative law judge and the Labor and Industrial Relations Commission awarded her permanent total disability benefits.
Appeals Court Overturns Award for Not Utilizing Second Injury Fund
The case reached the Missouri Court of Appeals. In City of Jennings v. Williams, the appeals court overturned the award of permanent total disability benefits because it did not utilize the Second Injury Fund.
As the appeals court pointed out, the corrections officer had pre-existing conditions that both doctors agreed had contributed to the degree of her eventual disability. This meant that the assault, alone, was not responsible for all of it. This put at least some of the liability for her workplace injury on the Second Injury Fund, rather than on the employer’s workers’ compensation insurance provider.
The appeals court sent the case back to the Labor and Industrial Relations Commission to determine how much of the award was to come from the Second Injury Fund.
The Effect of the Ruling: Money Is to Come from a Devastated Fund
While it might seem as if the ruling changes nothing, the practical effect is that part of the victim’s workers’ compensation award is now to come from a Fund that has been decimated by state politics. It has also been made extremely difficult for victims to recover money from the Fund since a recent Missouri Supreme Court case. That case strictly construed the terms of the Second Injury Fund’s coverage, creating questions about who was really liable for permanent injuries caused by a workplace accident when it aggravated previous medical conditions.
For the injured corrections officer in City of Jennings, then, the appeals court’s decision makes her fight for a portion of her workers’ compensation award from a Fund that has little money and an ever-narrowing scope of coverage.