Bar of Workers' Compensation claim based on personnel action includes migraines as manifestation of claimed psychiatric injury

March 21, 2012
By Justice Steven Vartabedian (Ret.) on March 21, 2012 6:00 AM |

Workers' Compensation.JPGLabor Code section 3208.3, subdivision (h), states that an employer is not required to compensate an employee for a psychiatric injury substantially caused by a lawful, nondiscriminatory, good faith personnel action. What about such a claim of injury in the form of migraine headaches?

In County of San Bernardino v. Workers' Comp. Appeals Bd. (filed March 2, 2012) 2012 DJDAR 2833, County employee John McCoy claimed he suffered migraine headaches as a result of on-the-job stress caused by friction with his supervisor. The WCJ found the injury not compensable, agreeing with County's argument that his psychiatric injuries were caused by lawful, nondiscriminatory, good faith personnel action. The WCAB granted reconsideration to McCoy and concluded section 3208 (h) did not bar compensation for migraines. Then in its denying the further reconsideration request of County, the board noted migraine headaches are not classified by the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as a "psychiatric injury."

County petitioned for Writ of Review. The petition was granted by the Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District, Division Two, which annulled the board's order.

The appellate court felt guided by legislative intent rather than the non-inclusion of migraine headaches in the cited psychiatric manual category. It viewed the intent of 3208.3 (h) to exclude from compensability claimed injuries directly and solely resulting from psychological suffering due to good-faith actions because the subjectivity of such injury claims bears a great potential for fraud and abuse. Telling in this case was the fact that McCoy added his claim of migraine headaches on the first day of his trial.