Highlights of Noteworthy Decisions

Decision 905 20
06/08/2020
G. Dee
  • Stress, mental
  • Board Directives and Guidelines (stress, mental) (traumatic event)
  • Presumptions (first responder)
  • Telephone operator (emergency services dispatcher)

The worker was an emergency services dispatcher. On a shift in October 2015, she handled a call involving a multi-vehicle accident with fatalities, including children. Five days previously, she had participated in another call involving a motor vehicle accident with four fatalities including three children. The worker appealed a decision of the Appeals Resolution Officer denying entitlement for traumatic mental stress.

The version of Document No. 15-03-02 published on January 2, 2018, applied to this appeal. The worker's claim fell within the category of pending claims, to which the policy applies regardless of when the traumatic mental stress occurred.
Even before participating in the two calls, the worker had psychological difficulties, specifically a bereavement disorder associated with the death of her 25-year-old son in February 2012.
The worker had an emotional reaction while still on the call in October 2015. The worker did not speak directly with the victims or the families of the victims in the two accidents but, in the circumstances, the two calls qualified as being traumatic. The accidents were particularly horrendous. There was evidence that the front line workers with whom the worker was speaking on both occasions were, despite their training and experience, distraught by what they had seen. The impact of the second call on the worker was immediate and evident to co-workers.
It was not unreasonable for Board policy to anticipate that a traumatic incident will usually involve direct observation. However, in this case, the incidents were sufficiently traumatic without direct observation, and those incidents caused injury. The evidence supported the conclusion that the worker's pre-existing psychological difficulties were aggravated by the two phone calls in which she participated. Once the worker's underlying psychological difficulties were aggravated, she became disabled from work for at least a period of time following the second call.
The Vice-Chair concluded that the worker had entitlement based upon the provisions of s. 13(4) of the WSIA, and not under the first responder provisions in s. 14. Section 14 creates a rebuttable presumption of entitlement for post-traumatic stress disorder for first responders and others, including emergency dispatchers such as the worker. The Vice-Chair found that the presumption was rebutted by evidence that the worker was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder prior to the two calls.
The appeal was allowed in part. The worker had entitlement for a traumatic mental stress occurring in October 2015. The injury resulted in an aggravation of a pre-existing non-compensable psychological impairment.