June 4, 2010
Defense of stress and suicide cases always poses a difficult task. Inevitably, medical records in a workers compensation case will be replete with statements about work related stress and depression. The Benefits Review Board is reluctant to apply the Marino doctrine, permitting legitimate personnel actions as a defense to stress and suicide claims. Instead, the Board presumes that if a worker has stress, and also works, the claimant has, without any more evidence than that, established a prima facie case. Thus, the battle can be won only with solid expert opinions that rebut the presumption and are worthy of greater weight by an Administrative Law Judge. In this case, the Claimant alleged her husband had committed suicide as a result of workplace stress. The defense was that the depression was a non-work-related condition and that workplace stress was simply a symptom or manifestation of the underlying depressive disorder. Expert opinions were marshaled on both sides, and the weight of the evidence prevailed for the Employer.