The Nebraska Supreme Court In Hynes v. Good Samaritan Hospital Further Elaborates on the Requirement that a Physical Injury Must Precede a Mental Injury for the Latter to be Compensable

by | Sep 15, 2015

The Nebraska Supreme Court recently decided Hynes v. Good Samaritan Hospital, 291 Neb. 757 (September 4, 2015), which has raised some questions as to whether this decision changes the law on the compensability of mental injuries in Nebraska.  However, a careful review of the Nebraska Supreme Court’s decision demonstrates that it does not change the law regarding compensable mental injuries in Nebraska but merely reiterates the long-standing rule that mental injuries with no accompanying physical injury are not compensable accidents in Nebraska.  In Hynes, the employee, a psychiatric nurse, was assaulted at work 3 times.  During the first assault, she was beaten with a cord and punched by a patient, sustained bruises and sought medical treatment.  She then developed PTSD as a result.  In the second assault, she was kicked and bitten by a patient, but did not seek medical treatment for the physical injuries.  In the third assault, she was grabbed by a patient, but was not physically injured.  The court trial found that the employee was permanently totally disabled due to the psychological injuries sustained due to the first incident and that the two subsequent assaults “added to the injury.”  The employer appealed, asserting that the second and third assaults did not constitute accidents because they involved no physical injury and should not have been considered.

The Supreme Court determined that the employee was physically injured in both the first and second assaults and sustained mental injuries along with the initial physical injuries.  The Court stated that the employee did not need to seek medical treatment for there to be a physical injury in regard to the second assault.  The employee was kicked and bitten, which the Court indicated constituted a physical injury regardless of whether the employee sought medical care.  Significantly, the Court stated that the third assault by itself would not have been “independently compensable” because there was no physical injury.  However, the Court simply found that the trial court was not clearly wrong in considering the third assault as part of the overall evidence, which showed that the first assault involved a physical injury and resulted in a mental injury.  Even though the third assault was not a compensable accident by itself, the trial court was not clearly wrong in finding it relevant to the ultimate conclusion.  There is no indication that the trial court’s finding would have been affirmed on appeal had there been no physical injury in the first two assaults.

This case does not stand for the proposition that mental injuries are compensable with no physical injury.   In fact, the case says the opposite, specifically, The Court noted that “ a claim for a psychological or mental condition requires that the mental condition must be related to or caused by the physical injury.”  Clearly, a physical injury is still required for there to be a compensable accident.  The Hynes decision does not constitute a change in the law.  Rather, it is entirely consistent with the 1985 case of Johnston v. State of Nebraska, where the employee accidently drank urn clearer and sustained minor burns to her esophagus, and a resulting mental condition.  The physical injury may be slight, but some physical injury is still required.  Hynes does not change that.  For questions regarding this case or other issues related to Nebraska Workers’ Compensation, contact attorney Jenny Panko at 402-475-1075 or