The claimant seeks workers' compensation for a mental disorder allegedly arising out of and in the scope of his employment. The Court of Appeals reversed the Workers' Compensation Board and allowed an award of benefits. We allowed review in this case and Leary v. Pacific Northwest Bell, 239 Or. 139, 675 P.2d 157 (1984), to consider these claims for stress-related occupational disease.
We quote the facts and testimony as related by the Court of Appeals:
The Court of Appeals found it to be "clear that the events about which claimant complains did, in fact, occur," and that:
It seems that no problem in recent years has given courts and commissions administering workers' compensation more difficulty than on-the-job mental stress which results in either emotional or physical illness.
To understand the difficulty the courts have encountered in trying to resolve mental stress cases, one need only review selected cases from other jurisdictions,
One well known case from another jurisdiction is Carter v. General Motors Corp., 361 Mich. 577, 106 N.W.2d 105 (1960). The Supreme Court of Michigan in Carter viewed mental disabilities as being identical to physical disabilities and sustained a compensation award for a psychosis resulting from cumulative emotional pressures suffered on the job by an assembly line worker. The court sustained the award despite the fact that the employe had considerable emotional difficulties in his background and his job involved no extraordinary stress, hazardous condition or identifiable risk of employment. The court rejected the contention that a traumatic event be required in mental disease cases to insure that the disease is work-related.
The claimant in Carter worked on a hub assembly job at defendant's automobile manufacturing plant. Claimant's work required him to take an assembled hub from a table to his workbench, "remove burrs with a file, * * * grind out holes in the assembly with a drill, and place the assembly on a conveyor belt." Claimant could not "keep up with the pace of the job unless he took 2 assemblies at a time to his workbench." Id. at 580, 106 N.W.2d 105. His foreman, however, repeatedly instructed him against this because the assembly parts became mixed on the conveyor belt. Although claimant attempted to keep up with the job for fear of layoff if he failed, he continued to fall behind the pace and to mix up the assembly parts. Consequently, his foreman berated him. As a result of the employment dilemma, claimant suffered an emotional collapse diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenia and a residual type schizophrenic reaction.
The issue in Carter was the compensability of a mental disorder when the disorder allegedly was caused by "emotional pressures * * * not * * * unusual in any respect, — that is, not shown * * * to be any different from the emotional pressures encountered by * * * fellow workers in similar employment." Id. at 585, 106 N.W.2d 105. The court stated that Michigan law did not compel limiting recovery in a mental disability case to fact situations in which the claimant suffered a single physical injury or a single mental shock. The court added that claimant's mental collapse brought on by gradual mental stimuli was compensable. The court then granted claimant recovery because the record revealed that his disability arose out of the pressures of his work.
The Carter court articulated as the policy rationale for its conclusions that the basic purpose of the workers' compensation system compelled that a worker disabled as a result of work-related mental stress receive treatment identical to a worker disabled by a work-related physical injury.
In Baker v. Workmen's Comp. Appeals Bd., 18 Cal.App.3d 852, 96 Cal.Rptr. 279 (1971), the California appellate court adopted the Carter approach, reasoning that the claimant was suffering from a psychoneurotic syndrome described as "cardiac neurosis" which was caused by the pressures, dangers, and general conditions of his work as a fireman. The court annulled a decision of the Workmen's Compensation Appeals Board which had denied compensation. Finding no evidence that the claimant was feigning his symptoms of severe chest pains, shortness of breath, intermittent expectoration of blood and mucus, and cyanosis, and observing substantial evidence supporting the board's determination that he did not have heart disease or a disabling pulmonary disorder, the court said the only logical inference was that he suffered from a psychoneurotic syndrome. The court added that the claimant's testimony concerning the origin and progression of his symptoms, together with expert medical evidence, led to a clear inference of industrial causation. It reasoned that psychoneurosis caused by the work environment was compensable, even in the absence of a physical accident or trauma, and even if the mental disorder resulted from the cumulative effect of daily stresses and strains.
In Yocom v. Pierce, 534 S.W.2d 796 (Ky. 1976), the Kentucky court upheld a compensation award for a claimant who suffered a non-traumatic work-related anxiety neurosis in the course of her employment by a clothing manufacturer. The court found the demands made by her job, which required her to match threads with the dominant color of garments, aroused a dormant condition into a disabling reality.
In Deziel v. Difco Laboratories, Inc., 403 Mich. 1, 268 N.W.2d 1, 97 A.L.R.3d 121 (1978), the Michigan court continued its allegiance to Carter, and determined that workers' compensation benefits had been improperly denied to the claimant, McKenzie, an employe of an automobile manufacturer, who suffered a disabling mental disorder which he believed was caused by the pressures of his job. Compensation benefits had been denied on the ground that claimant's job, when viewed objectively, had not aggravated, accelerated or combined with a long-standing personality defect from which he suffered to produce his disability. Evidence showed that assembly line workers took defective parts from claimant's work area and installed them on new automobiles, thus causing the claimant to worry about the safety of the cars, recount the remaining parts and account for those that were missing. The court reasoned that the medical evidence as to the claimant's perception of the cause of his mental disorder satisfied the subjective standard, and that it was a sufficient basis upon which to award compensation benefits.
In contrast to the decisions from Michigan, California, Hawaii and Kentucky, other jurisdictions refuse to allow any recovery in cases of mental disorders brought on by the stress of gradual strain and worry. These decisions represent the "[H]ow could it be real when * * * it was purely mental?" judicial reasoning criticized by Professor Larson in his article, Mental and Nervous Injury in Workmen's Compensation, 23 Vand L Rev 1243 (1970). He wrote:
For cases representing this restrictive point of view, see Transportation Ins. Co. v. Maksyn, 580 S.W.2d 334 (Tex. 1979); Marable v. Singer Business Machines, 92 N.M. 261, 586 P.2d 1090 (1978); Erhart v. Great Western Sugar Co., 169 Mont. 375, 546 P.2d 1055 (1976); Vernon v. Seven-Eleven Stores, 547 P.2d 1300 (Okl. 1976); Begin's Case, 354 Mass. 594, 238 N.E.2d 864 (1968); Samson v. Southern Bell Telephone & Telegraph Co., 205 So.2d 496 (La. App. 1967); and Jacobs v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., 196 Kan. 613, 412 P.2d 986 (1966).
A less restrictive test for mental stress cases is found in decisions from Wisconsin, Arizona and Maine.
The Supreme Court of Wisconsin directly confronted the threshold policy limitations in gradual stress mental disability cases in School District No. 1 v. Department of Industry, Labor & Human Relations, 62 Wis.2d 370, 215 N.W.2d 373 (1974). In that case, claimant, a high school guidance counselor, was given a list of recommendations by the school's student council which requested the removal of several staff members and other changes. The counselor's copy of this list was difficult to read and she did not learn until after questioning students that the list recommended her removal from the staff. The counselor became emotionally upset about this recommendation; she was unable to sleep or eat and suffered nausea, severe headaches and acute anxiety. The counselor alleged that the incident with students caused her condition, which doctors diagnosed as a "severe neurosis tension state with gastro intestinal signs and symptoms." Id. at 372, 215 N.W.2d 373.
The court began its analysis by declaring that the Wisconsin Workers' Compensation Act clearly did not intend to limit recovery to physical injuries and traumatically caused mental injuries. That court adopted a standard under which mental disorders, not resulting from trauma, must arise from "a situation of greater dimensions than the day-to-day emotional strain and tension which all employees must experience." Applying this test, the court denied claimant compensation on the ground that her experience "could not be deemed" different from "the countless emotional strains and differences that employees encounter daily." Id. at 377-78, 215 N.W.2d 373.
In two cases, the Supreme Court of Arizona established a standard that stress encountered by the claimant at work must be greater than that ordinarily encountered by employes performing the same type of work: Fireman's Fund Ins. Co. v. Industrial Com'n, 119 Ariz. 51, 579 P.2d 555 (1978), and Sloss v. Industrial Commission, 121 Ariz. 10, 588 P.2d 303 (1978).
In Fireman's Fund, claimant's mental disorder allegedly resulted from constant, psychologically intolerable work responsibility. The claimant was an underwriter for defendant's insurance agency. Within a short time of her arrival, the agency experienced a period of explosive growth. Claimant, "a conscientious employee and a perfectionist," undertook duties that placed her "under constant pressure." The defendant agency purchased another agency and added another employe. The agency made claimant the supervisor of the new employe and gave her responsibility for merging the books of the two agencies. Claimant began to feel frustrated and ineffective and experienced difficulty relating to her co-workers. After a severe emotional outbreak, she was hospitalized for a mental breakdown. Claimant alleged that she suffered a disabling mental condition brought on by the gradual build-up of the stress and strain of her employment.
The Supreme Judicial Court of Maine in Townsend v. Maine Bureau of Public Safety, 404 A.2d 1014 (Me. 1979), expressly adopted the standard that on-the-job stress must be greater than found in employment generally. The claimant, Ms. Townsend, was employed as a civilian dispatcher with the Department of Public Safety from June of 1973 until March of 1976. After being reprimanded by her supervisor on March 18, 1976, for an infraction of the Department's rules, Ms. Townsend became emotionally distraught and left work early that day. Suffering from what the claimant described as a "nervous breakdown," she thereafter voluntarily entered the hospital where she remained for approximately four weeks suffering from a "situational reaction" with depression.
The claimant testified she was subjected to work-related "harassment" beginning in the winter of 1973 due to a relationship she had with a state police officer which the Department attempted to discourage. She related a series of incidents in which she was followed, received annoying telephone calls and was summoned to court, all perpetrated by Department employes who were out to get her. Ms. Townsend stated that even after the relationship ended she was exposed to repeated and unjustified disciplinary hearings and suspensions until she was no longer able to cope with her job.
Justice Delahanty, writing for the court, said:
The court expressly stated the policy reason for its adoption of the limiting threshold standard: "[A] higher threshold level than simply the usual and ordinary pressures that exist in any working situation would erect an appropriate buffer between the employer and a host of malingering claims." Id. at 1019.
The Maine court's analysis reveals an underlying methodology to counterbalance the policy problems that emanate from the subjective nature of mental injuries by providing an objective measurement.
We now review some Oregon cases dealing with the issue of on-the-job mental stress causing physical disease or mental disorders.
In 1969, this court in Clayton v. Compensation Department, 253 Or. 397, 454 P.2d 628 (1969), held that a heart attack resulting from ordinary on-the-job stress conditions was compensable. No special
In Paresi v. State Accident Insurance Fund, 44 Or.App. 689, 606 P.2d 1172 (1980), remanded on other grounds 290 Or. 365, 624 P.2d 572 (1981), a liquor control officer observed what she perceived were illegal activities on the part of the Oregon Liquor Control Commission involving preferential treatment accorded certain licensees. Her activities brought her into conflict with her supervisors. She in turn perceived her supervisors' criticism of her as harassment and became anxious and depressed. The Court of Appeals allowed her disability benefits and commented that emotional disorders need not be analyzed objectively and that employers must accept workers as they find them with all their latent and obvious physical and mental deficiencies.
In Korter v. EBI Companies, Inc., 46 Or.App. 43, 610 P.2d 312 (1980), an insurance claims consultant was demoted at work and became anxious, insecure and depressed. The Court of Appeals found that the worker proved he was disabled and his disability arose out of and in the course of his employment. With regard to causation, the Court of Appeals set out the following principles from its decision in James v. SAIF, 44 Or.App. 405, 409-12, 605 P.2d 1368 (1980):
On review, we noted in James v. SAIF, 290 Or. 343, 624 P.2d 565 (1981), that the claimant complained she was being unfairly reprimanded and criticized by her supervisor, from which she developed a nervous disorder. The claimant suffered from anxiety and depression neuroses. We held such a claim would be compensable if the claimant's mental disorder was caused by circumstances "to which an employe is not ordinarily subjected or exposed other than during a period of regular actual employment." We specifically said that claimant's mental illness, neuroses, was an occupational disease.
In James the evidence indicated that the claimant's mental illness was caused by criticism from her supervisor to which the claimant was subjected and exposed only during employment. However, the evidence also showed that it was not the source of the criticism, but any criticism or unsympathetic or unfriendly conduct from any source that was stressful to the claimant. We found that there was a fact question whether the claimant's mental disorder was caused by circumstances "to which an employe is not ordinarily subjected or exposed other than during a period of regular actual employment." The case was remanded to the Court of Appeals for a factual finding on that issue and the court subsequently found that the claimant's mental disorder was work related and granted compensation. SAIF v. James, 61 Or.App. 30, 33, 655 P.2d 620 (1982).
The decision in James left unanswered the major question whether and under what circumstances our occupational disease statute provides compensation for mental disorders emanating from on-the-job mental stress. In James, SAIF did not contend that mental illness was never compensable. Without addressing this key issue, this court in James merely set forth a
The adoption of the "restrictive" rule is suggested by the employer in the companion case of Leary v. Pacific Northwest Bell. In a memorandum to this court, Pacific Northwest Bell asserts:
The Court of Appeals, in the companion case of Leary v. Pacific Northwest Bell, 60 Or.App. 459, 653 P.2d 1293 (1982), rejected this contention and held that in order to qualify for a compensation award for a physical disorder the claimant would be required to prove only that the stress arose out of and in the course of the employment and that the employment-connected stress suffered by the claimant was the major contributing cause of the claimant's mental disorder. Such a test is backed by the logic and reasoning expressed in Carter and allied cases.
Dissenters from such a rule argue that workers' compensation claims are already a substantial cost of doing business in any state
It is not our task to rely on supposed economic disasters that might befall this state in deciding to adopt one rule versus another. If a legislature chooses to open the door of its workers' compensation law for all mental stress cases it is free to do so. If it chooses to eliminate all mental stress claims for workers' compensation, it may do so. A legislature may wish to consider the scholarly work and suggestion for a "worker's disease protection system" which would substantially and structurally reform the present methods of compensation for mental disorders and resulting disabilities.
Workers' compensation systems are founded on political compromise. For decades, labor, management and the insurance industry in this state have waged fierce political wars over who receives what and when. Legislatures first enacted workers' compensation laws early in this century in response to an increase in industrial accidents and because of the inadequate recovery provided employes under common law doctrines and procedures.
Workers' compensation laws provide a form of strict liability requiring employers, regardless of fault, to compensate employes for injuries arising out of and in the course of employment.
Those ultimate social and economic decisions are for the legislature and not for the courts. The courts must decide whether an occupational disease is compensable based on legislative directives.
The intention of the Oregon legislature was manifested when it enacted Oregon's occupational disease law. The law was designed to provide protection only for any disease or infection which arises out of and in the scope of employment and "to which an employe is not ordinarily subjected or exposed other than during a period of regular actual employment." ORS 656.802(1) defines an occupational disease as follows:
Professor Larson comments about statutory definitions which are common in occupational disease cases. He states in his treatise on workers' compensation law:
The vast majority of workers, if not all, face and deal with job stress on a daily basis. The Oregon occupational disease statute speaks of diseases the worker is exposed to on the job, but not ordinarily exposed to off the job. On-the-job stress is not a disease. On-the-job events and conditions produce stress which in turn can cause mental disorders. We recognize that if we conclude the occupational disease law allows compensation for mental diseases and disorders caused by on-the-job stressful events or conditions, that interpretation of the statute may open a floodgate of claims from workers who simply cannot mentally cope with usual working conditions.
If the legislature wants employers and compensation carriers to be relieved from the burden of such claims and wishes to change the occupational disease law to exclude mental disorders, such as exhaustively set forth in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (3rd Ed. 1981),
We agree with the Hawaii Supreme Court's analysis in Royal State Nat'l Ins. v. Labor Bd., 53 Haw. 32, 487 P.2d 278 (1971), that stress-caused claims for benefits arising out of mental and physical disorders are compensable if they flow from the conditions of the worker's employment, provided causation, as hereinafter discussed, has been proven. We all know that stress may flow from work conditions. However, the on-the-job stress conditions causing the disorders must be real. That is, the events and conditions producing the stress must, from an objective standpoint, exist in reality. A worker's inability to keep up the pace of the job, Carter v. General Motors Corp., 361 Mich. 577, 106 N.W.2d 105 (1960), is real stress. Pressures, dangers and general conditions of a fire fighter's work are real stress, Baker v. Workmen's Compensation Appeals Board, 18 Cal.App.3d 852, 853, 96 Cal.Rptr. 279 (1971). The pressure of an executive or management position is real stress, Royal State Nat. Ins. Co., supra. The day-after-day intricate matching of threads in a garment factory is real stress, Yocom v. Pierce, 534 S.W.2d 796 (Ky. 1976). However, concern that cars might not be safe, emanating from a worker's long-standing personality defect, when there is no objective evidence to substantiate such a fear, is not real stress, Deziel v. Difco Laboratories, Inc., 403 Mich. 1, 268 N.W.2d 1 (1978). A worker's misperception of reality does not flow from any factual work condition. We disagree with the Michigan Supreme Court standard set forth in Deziel that all that is needed for compensation for stress-induced physical disease or mental disorders is a strictly subjective causal nexus based upon a worker's honest perception. A worker may honestly believe that the employer plans to kill him and as a result
Under a "strictly subjective causal nexus" standard, a claimant is entitled to compensation if it is factually established that claimant honestly perceives some event occurred during the ordinary work of his employment which "caused" his disease. This standard applies where the claimant alleges a disease resulting from mental stimulus and honestly, even though mistakenly, believes that he is disabled or impaired due to that work-related event and therefore cannot resume his normal employment.
This standard is no standard at all in the reality of application. In cases where the disability or impairment is established, the subjective test for causal nexus would result in an award of compensation for virtually all, if not all, claims based on mental disorders. If the claimant perceived that the job conditions caused the mental disorders, even if this were not true, the employer would be liable. The subjective formulation ignores the fundamental statutory requirement that diseases or disorders arise out of and in the scope of employment. An honest perception of that which does not factually exist is an insufficient causal nexus for an occupational disease claim.
The stressful conditions must actually exist on the job.
In the present case, the Court of Appeals found that there were actual stress conditions at work, not simply conditions perceived by the claimant in his own subjective view.
In addition to proving that stressful conditions objectively existed on the job, the worker must also prove that employment conditions, when compared to non-employment conditions, were the "major contributing cause" of the mental disorder. In Dethlefs v. Hyster Co., 295 Or. 298, 310, 667 P.2d 487 (1983), we said:
We agree that ORS 656.802(1)(a) does not require that the occupational disease be caused or aggravated solely by the work conditions. If the at-work conditions, when compared to non-employment exposure, are the major contributing cause of the claimant's disease or disorder, then the claimant is eligible for compensation. The Court of Appeals found this claimant suffers a greater and different degree of stress when he is at work. That court further found no evidence this claimant suffered from any particular stress from non-employment sources.
Applying the facts as found by the Court of Appeals to the standards set forth in this case, we hold that this occupational disease is compensable. Claimant was subjected to actual stress conditions at work when viewed objectively. Furthermore, the at-work conditions, when compared to non-employment exposure, were the major contributing cause of claimant's mental disorder.
The Court of Appeals is affirmed.
LENT, Justice, concurring.
I write separately only to express what I perceive to be the thrust of the opinion of the court. "Stress" is not the disease. It is a word which describes the mechanism by which conditions or events actually present at the work place result in mental disease.
An occupational disease is considered an injury except as otherwise provided in the Occupational Disease Law, ORS 656.804. As such, the disease may be a nondisabling compensable injury if it requires medical services only, ORS 656.005(8)(c), or a disabling compensable injury if the disease results in disability or death, ORS 656.005(8)(b).
If conditions or events actually present at the work place are the major contributing cause of a mental disease necessitating medical services or resulting in disability, the worker is entitled to compensation as defined in ORS 656.005(9) under the Occupational Disease Law.
The World Health Organization developed a separate chapter for mental disorders in its Ninth Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-9), thereby distinguishing Mental Disorders from Infectious Diseases, Diseases of the Blood, Diseases of the Nervous System, and the like.
If the legislature chooses to include mental disorders within the definition of occupational diseases, it might observe that DSM-III defines, among hundreds of other mental disorders, the following:
The manual also includes codes not attributable to a mental disorder. Listed are V.62.20 Occupational problems and V.65.20 Malingering.
It was most helpful to this court in the present case that the Court of Appeals made specific findings of fact rather than merely referring to the testimony of the witnesses. It was most difficult in Leary v. Pacific Northwest Bell, 60 Or.App. 459, 653 P.2d 1293 (1982), to distinguish a finding of fact from a mere recitation of testimony.