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Injuries from suicide attempt may be covered by workers’ comp

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A worker injured his back on the job and complained that he was suffering chronic pain as a result. He claimed the pain caused major depression and anxiety that drove him to attempt suicide.

Lawyers for the man argued that workers' compensation should cover medical costs resulting from the suicide attempt. The Wyoming workers' comp board tossed out the argument. But the state Supreme Court went for it, saying that the work-related physical injury caused a mental illness that led to the suicide attempt. (Brierley v. State of Wyoming, No. 01-166, 2002)

Advice: Workers' comp protections vary from state to state. Although this ruling is only binding in Wyoming, it may give ideas to other state compensation boards. That means if mental illness results from a compensable, work-related injury, it may also be covered.

To defend against such claims, you'll want to show that nonwork problems contributed to the mental illness, such as financial woes, a relationship crisis or a history of mental distress. As you're monitoring any workers' comp situation, be aware of the mental, as well as physical, effects that an employee may face, and suggest counseling if appropriate.

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