The widow of a worker who committed suicide while developing depression after an occupational injury is entitled to a percentage of his wages, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court held on Monday.
In the Southeastern Transportation Authority v. Workers Compensation Appeal Board the court upheld a compensation judge for workers who granted the widow's death petition after establishing that his mental condition had been caused by his back injury at work.
Gregory Hansell worked for the Southeast Transportation Authority when he suffered a sprain in his lower back in June 2016. He tried to return to work in light duty but could not. Less than a year later, he committed suicide. His widow, Maureen Hansell, filed a fatal petition claiming that her husband became depressed, illusory and irrational after his work injury. SEPTA appealed, arguing that the Labor Court's judges erred in finding that the Pennsylvania Workers' Compensation Act did not preclude benefits and that there was no substantial evidence to establish that Hansel's mental illness was "so difficult to conceal from his rational judgment. to the point that (he) had no intention of committing suicide.
SEPTA also argued that workers' judges should have applied the mental-mental standard that required a demonstration that abnormal working conditions contributed to Hansel's mental illness. [1
The Court also rejected SEPTA's argument that the judge should have used the mental-mental standard to evaluate the case. The court found that there was significant evidence that Hansell's mental health was declining as a result of his physical injury, and that the mental and psychological standard did not apply because the mental injury was not the result of mental stress.