What is a psychiatric injury?
Psychiatric harm is a controversial subject but in law psychiatric injury in the workplace can justify a significant claim.
Read on to find out more about what constitutes a psychiatric injury and how a psychiatric assessment by an expert psychiatrist can assist with making a claim.
What are the differences between mental stress, psychiatric illness, and psychiatric injury?
In general terms, there is not much difference between mental stress, psychiatric illness, and psychiatric injuries. All three words refer to a distinction between a normal response to a difficult situation and an adverse response that could cause potential personal harm either physically or mentally.
The main difference is that whilst both mental stress and psychiatric illnesses – such as anxiety – are widely recognised medical conditions, the term ‘psychiatric injury’ only applies when it results from a traumatic event in the workplace.
Psychiatric Injury law
The leading authority on psychiatric injury cases remains the seminal House of Lords case of White v Chief Constable of South Yorkshire Police during the Hillsborough football stadium disaster, which identified three categories for establishing liability for psychiatric illness: primary, secondary, and ancillary.
The dividing line between primary and secondary is when someone else’s negligence results in a mental problem that would not have otherwise occurred.
If this can be proved then it is the former, if not then it is the latter. An example of primary damage would be where an employer has breached their duty of care but they are unaware of any risk to their employees’ psychological health.
A good example would be in British Coal Corporation v England where an employee was exposed to gas when he checked equipment in a pit. He successfully claimed for psychiatric injury because his employer’s negligence resulted in him being exposed to gas which heightened the risk of psychiatric harm.
Psychiatric injury in the workplace
On the other hand, an example of secondary damage would be where a pre-existing psychiatric condition is worsened by work-related stress that could have been avoided by a reasonable employer. An example would be in Jones v Livox Quarries Ltd.
In this case, Jones developed an anxiety disorder from being bullied at work and was unable to continue working after he witnessed someone die at work. Although there was no link between witnessing the death and developing an anxiety disorder, it exacerbated the symptoms of the one he had previously suffered from due to his job as a police officer.
Psychiatric injury is a type of personal injury that can be claimed in work-related accidents. The two main types are recognised psychiatric injury and recognisable psychiatric harm. However, there is no clear definition for either term, but they are very similar.
An example of the former would be where somebody witnesses an accident at work which results in them developing PTSD whereas the latter could be where somebody witnesses an accident that reminds them of a previous trauma causing them to experience flashbacks or other symptoms that are referable to their past experience. Psychiatric injury at work has been a growing phenomenon most recently exacerbated by Covid-19.
Recognised psychiatric injury
Recognised psychiatric injury requires that 1) the claimant can prove he or she has suffered psychological harm, 2) this has arisen out of circumstances in the course of employment, and 3) it was due to ‘something done or not done’ by the employer (in breach of duty). The claim is brought before a court, tribunal or both.
Psychiatric injury which is not recognised
Non-recognised psychiatric injury comprises illnesses that have been diagnosed as anxiety and stress conditions but a cause cannot be attributed to employment. Conditions such as depression or stress can be caused due to a range of factors outside of work and so it may be difficult for claims to succeed in these circumstances.
However, if the condition has been triggered at work, there could well be a possible claim. For example, if an individual became depressed after being subjected to bullying at work his/her condition would likely be deemed as having arisen out of their events at work even though they were not physically injured.
Please get in touch if you are looking for a psychiatric expert to assess psychiatric injury.