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Casino worker who suffered electric shock injury has claims for PTSD, psychotraumatic disability denied

by HR Law Canada

A 40-year-old woman who suffered an electric shock injury while plugging a cord into a power bar on the floor under a desk has had her workers’ compensation claim for ongoing benefits related to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and psychotraumatic disability denied.

The incident happened at a casino in Ontario where she worked on March 11, 2017. She was granted initial entitlement for injury to her left elbow, forearm and hand — but the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) determined those physical injuries had resolved.

Her appeals to the Ontario Workplace Safety and Insurance Appeals Tribunal (WSIAT) focused on the psychological impacts of the incident, particularly PTSD and other mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, which she argued were exacerbated by the event.

The Tribunal’s decision centered on the complexity of the worker’s pre-existing mental health conditions and the extent to which the workplace accident contributed to her current state.

Despite acknowledging the worker’s significant psychological distress, including a deep connection to her Indigenous heritage and the re-emergence of traumatic memories, the Tribunal found that the electric shock incident did not significantly contribute to her ongoing PTSD beyond a temporary exacerbation.

The worker had a history of psychological vulnerabilities and symptoms prior to the accident, which, according to medical experts, likely included PTSD symptoms from earlier life traumas.

The Tribunal differentiated between the direct psychological impact of the electric shock and the worker’s broader experiences of trauma, including a traumatic rape at age 14 and the distress related to Indigenous identity and history.

It concluded that while the workplace accident temporarily worsened her psychological state, her enduring psychological conditions were primarily tied to these pre-existing and non-compensable factors.

As a result, the Tribunal denied her appeals for ongoing benefits after Sept. 16, 2020, for PTSD, major depressive disorder (MDD), general anxiety disorder (GAD), and loss of earnings (LOE) benefits, determining that her conditions had returned to their pre-accident state by this time.

“While we understand and accept that the worker is significantly disabled, in our view her disability is correctly recognized under the employer’s long-term disability plan rather than under the WSIA,” the Tribunal said.

For more information, see Decision No. 1576/22, 2024 ONWSIAT 12 (CanLII).

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