Bickford v. Central Maine Healthcare Corp. – While at work on November 25, 2019 Ms. Bickford was punched in the head by an agitated patient, resulting in deterioration of her preexisting anxiety, depression and PTSD. In Bickford v. Central Maine Healthcare Corp., Dec. No. 22-31, ALJ Chabot granted Ms. Bickford’s petitions concluding that her claim was neither governed by Sec. 201(4), which provided a heightened standard of causation for compensable preexisting physical conditions, nor Sec. 201(3-A(A), which provided a more exacting burden of proof for mental injuries. The ALJ further found that though the physical injury had resolved it remained a cause of her worsened psychological state.

Central Maine Healthcare appealed, arguing that because Sec. 201(4) makes no mention of preexisting mental conditions, compensation for aggravation of preexisting mental conditions is not available under the Act. The App. Div. affirmed the ALJ, observing that analysis of work related causation begins with Sec. 201(1) which provides potential compensation for any person who receives a personal injury arising out of and in the course of employment. Sec. 201 then goes on to list exclusions to compensability such as Sec. 201(2)- certain ride share program, sec. 201(5)- subsequent non work injuries, and heightened standards of proof in Sec. 201(4)-preexisting physical injuries and Sec. 201(5)- mental injuries caused by mental stress. In the absence of a specific provision in Sec. 201, or elsewhere in the Act, addressing a preexisting psychological condition aggravated by a physical injury, then the general causation standard of Sec. 201(1) governs. If the Legislature intended that only preexisting physical conditions be compensable under the Act it could have explicitly provided that exclusion.

The panel also rejected the employer’s argument that the heightened standard proof for mental injuries under Sec. 201(3-A) applies because it addresses a mental injury caused by mental stress, not physical injury.

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Thomas Getchell
Daniel F. Gilligan