The Nova Scotia Court of Appeal in Children's Aid Society of Cape Breton-Victoria v. Nova Scotia (Workers' Compensation Appeals Tribunal) (February 23, 2005, N.S.C.A.) considered whether a worker, who had a history of anxiety attacks, who went on "stress leave" after an "intense meeting" with his supervisor was entitled to benefits under the Nova Scotia Workers Compensation Act.
Summary of the Appeal Tribunal's Decision
The Court summarized the matter as follows:
Stress is considered an accident under the Workers' Compensation Act, S.N.S. 1994-95, c. 10 ("WCA") if it results from an acute reaction to a traumatic event: WCA, s. 2(a). In this case, the Workers' Compensation Appeals Tribunal ("WCAT") found that the worker's stress fell within the definition of accident and therefore recognized his claim for workers' compensation. The question on this appeal is whether the Tribunal erred.
The Court went on to say that:
WCAT made two critical findings. First, it concluded that the February meeting was a traumatic event. Second, it found that Mr. MacNeil [the employee] had an acute reaction to this event which gave rise to post-traumatic stress syndrome and exacerbated his pre-existing anxiety disorder.
WCAT concluded that the meeting "caused the worker to develop post-traumatic stress syndrome" and that "there was no evidence that the worker suffered from this before the meeting and no evidence that he would have developed it had the events of the meeting not occurred." While the worker had a pre-existing condition (i.e. suffering from anxiety attacks) it wound that the February 2002 meeting "exacerbated" that pre-existing condition.
WCAT determined that "injury" arose out of the workers' employment and awarded benefits.
What the Court of Appeal Said
The Court of Appeal overturned the decision of the WCAT.
In discussing what "an acute reaction to a traumatic event" means, the Court stated as follows:
Given the agreement of the parties on the correct test, I will assume, for the purposes of this appeal, that whether or not the worker had "an acute reaction to a traumatic event" is to be assessed using both a subjective and an objective point of view. For the purposes of this appeal, therefore, the only issue is whether WCAT employed the test which the parties agree to be the correct one. I will assess that on the correctness standard. It is not necessary for the purposes of this appeal to offer a final opinion on whether the test on which the parties agree is the correct test or on the question of whether WCAT's selection of the test should be reviewed on a more deferential standard.
So, the Court does not weigh in with a "final and conclusive" decision on the appropriate test but, rather, assumes the test agreed to by the parties as being the correct one. The employer, on the appeal, argued that, while the subjective/objective test was appropriate, the WCAT failed to apply it. The Court disagreed and stated that:
WCAT found the meeting to be highly charged with the potential for physical violence. The word "traumatic" was taken to mean something other than the common workplace experiences of the particular worker, suggesting an objective element. And WCAT addressed itself to the question of what employees working for the employer in general, not just this worker, would find normal or unacceptable. Therefore, assuming without deciding that this more objective approach was the proper one, WCAT did not fail to take it.
At the end of the appeal,the Court held that the finding that there had been "an acute reaction to a traumatic event" was not patently unreasonable and concluded that:
In short, the worker's uncontradicted testimony, his psychiatric diagnosis, and his medical history all support WCAT's conclusion that the events of February 2002 caused the worker to develop post-traumatic stress syndrome and, as well, that those events exacerbated Mr. MacNeil's pre-existing anxiety condition. Supported as they are by the record, these conclusions cannot be said to be bordering on the absurd, clearly irrational or evidently not in accordance with reason.
The Appeal was dismissed.
There's an article discussing the case entitled N.S. court upholds worker's claim of post traumatic stress syndrome
For what it's worth, Ontario employer's governed by the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act might want to read the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board's Policy with respect to "traumatic mental stress that is an acute reaction to a sudden and unexpected traumatic event arising out of and in the course of employment."