I&F Successfully Defends Bank CEO’s Stress Claim
Managing partner Tom Fitzgibbons scored an impressive victory from the Commission and for all Illinois employers in overturning an award of permanent total disability awarded for an alleged mental-mental stress claim. In that case, the claimant, an attorney and CEO of a bank, alleged that she suffered sudden, severe mental trauma in June 2009 after hearing in a telephone call that the FDIC was investigating her and the bank and that she may be demoted and/or removed from CEO of the bank due to possible criminal activity. She alleged that she collapsed after the telephone call and had to be hospitalized for severe depression and stress from which she was unable to recover. In a unanimous decision, the Commission found that the petitioner failed to sufficiently allege a work related accident and that her condition was not causally related to her work duties. Specifically, the Commission found that she experienced the same risk that every employee faces due to a downturn in the economy and due to the threat of possible demotion or termination. The Commission also found the fact that her position as a CEO came with stress could not be used to lower the threshold required under the Act to meet the requirements of compensability for a mental-mental case without physical injury. The Commission also noted that she was the aware that the bank was being investigated by the FDIC since early 2008 as well as in a meeting with FDIC officials shortly before the date of accident and therefore, she could not have been suddenly surprised on June 11, 2009 when she learned the FDIC might require her resignation. The medical records at trial also showed that she had been worried about the bank for many months after the financial crisis in 2008 and that she had a history of similar psychological symptoms and treatment for melancholic depression/stress that predated the accident date. Therefore, the Commission held that she failed to prove a sudden, severe emotional shock traceable to a definite time, place and event as required under the Illinois Supreme Court case of Pathfinder v Industrial Commission, 343 N.E.2d 913 (Ill.1976).