McGarrah v. State Acc. Ins. Fund Corp.

Decision Date20 December 1983
Docket NumberNo. 79-05440,79-05440
Citation296 Or. 145,675 P.2d 159
PartiesIn the Matter of the Compensation of Henry McGarrah, Claimant. Henry McGARRAH, Respondent on review, v. STATE ACCIDENT INSURANCE FUND CORPORATION, Petitioner on review. ; CA A22990; SC 29084.
CourtOregon Supreme Court

Darrell E. Bewley, Appellate Counsel, State Accident Insurance Fund Corporation, Salem, argued the cause and filed the petition and brief, for petitioner on review.

Robert H. Grant, Medford, argued the cause, for respondent on review. With him on the brief was Grant, Ferguson & Carter, Medford.

Evohl F. Malagon, Eugene, filed a brief amicus curiae on behalf of the Oregon Workers' Compensation Attorneys Association.


JONES, Justice.

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 (decided this date), to consider these claims for stress-related occupational disease.

We quote the facts and testimony as related by the Court of Appeals:

"Claimant, 40 years old at the time of the hearing, was a deputy sheriff in Jackson County from the fall of 1975 through December 4, 1978. He had worked previously as a deputy from 1969 to 1973, when his back was injured in a job-related automobile accident. After a period of recuperation, he was rehired in 1975. Sometime thereafter, claimant wrote a memorandum to his superiors requesting an investigation into the low morale within the department and apparently suggesting that a certain officer known as 'B.J.' not participate in the investigation. Subsequently, B.J. became a captain and claimant's superior.

"A series of events ensued that convinced claimant that he was being subjected to a personal vendetta by Captain B.J. to encourage him to resign or quit. Those events included the removal of claimant one month early from a public relations job, which he enjoyed, in order to transfer him back to patrol, where it appeared to claimant and to a chief deputy that he was not really needed; his transfer from the day shift to the night shift (which claimant considered a rookie shift), despite his high seniority in the department; failure to promote him to senior deputy status, despite his seniority and his achievement of advanced officer status, when others eligible at that time for the promotion were granted it; frequent oral reprimands in the presence of others by the captain or his subordinates about claimant's appearance, which claimant felt was satisfactory; reprimands for not writing enough traffic tickets; oral reprimands in public for having left his post without authorization when his son was injured at school, although claimant had unsuccessfully attempted to reach his supervisor; a reprimand for abandoning his vehicle, which was stuck in a snowdrift in an area where radio communications were blacked out; and a memorandum inquiring into the possibility that claimant had allowed narcotics to go aboard an airplane while he was supervising security personnel at the airport, although no investigation was ever conducted to permit claimant to exonerate himself. The reprimands, standing alone, were not as upsetting to claimant as was the fact that they were usually made in the presence of others.

"Claimant did not initiate a union grievance concerning any of the above incidents, although he did write a letter invoking the union contract in response to his early transfer back to patrol. By the same token, the reprimands were unofficial disciplinary actions. That Captain B.J. was the source of low morale in the department was corroborated at the hearing by a former colleague of claimant. Another former officer confirmed that Captain B.J. exhibited a pattern of putting pressure on individual officers through manipulation of shift scheduling and excessive criticism of the quantity and quality of the individuals' work. These pressures evidently reached a critical point for claimant on the day he learned of his shift change. He went home in a state of acute depression with violent feelings of hostility about Captain B.J. That condition persisted for some time. Claimant did not return to work as a deputy sheriff. Eventually, he turned to selling real estate, which he had done earlier in his career.

"A psychiatrist testified at the hearing that claimant suffered from anxiety and depressive neurosis directly related to his job as deputy sheriff, as a result of the perceived vendetta and the natural stresses of the job. No psychiatrist consulted found otherwise, and there was no evidence of stress outside the job that was a contributing cause of claimant's condition." McGarrah v. SAIF, 59 Or.App. 448, 450-51, 651 P.2d 153 (1982).

The Court of Appeals found it to be "clear that the events about which claimant complains did, in fact, occur," and that:

" * * * [claimant did prove] that supervisory action and criticism relating to his performance on the job, to which he was not ordinarily subjected or exposed other than during a period of regular employment, was the major source of stress triggering his psychological disability.

" * * * Both the medical and other evidence establish that job-related stress caused claimant's mental disorder." Id. at 457-58, 651 P.2d 153.

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. 1 The causal relationship between employment stress and a resulting mental or emotional disorder presents one of the most complex issues in workers' compensation law. 2

To understand the difficulty the courts have encountered in trying to resolve mental stress cases, one need only review selected cases from other jurisdictions, 3 which vary widely in their treatment of these claims. Of course, a great deal of the variance results from different wording in state statutes.

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...

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