Harvey suffered a 1999 work-related injury to her right leg. Following H.C. Price’s Petition to Determine the Extent of Permanent Impairment, the Board found that Harvey suffered 5% whole person permanent impairment from that injury. Harvey claimed that she suffered from depression as a result of her leg injury and filed her own Petition to Determine the Extent of Permanent Impairment asking the Board to add permanent impairment from her psychological sequela to the 5% that had already been allocated to her leg. The 312 examiner diagnosed her with major depressive disorder related to the 1999 injury and assigned 7% permanent impairment to her psychological injury. The Hearing Officer adopted this opinion, finding that Harvey had 12% combined permanent impairment which put her over the threshold for her date of injury and entitled her to lifetime partial benefits.
The employer appealed, arguing that because the AMA Guides did not adopt fixed percentages for psychological injuries, it was error for the Hearing Officer to add psychological permanent impairment to the employee’s whole body permanent impairment.
The Court upheld the decision of the Board’s Hearing Officer. In the opinion of the Court, the fact that the AMA Guides did not adopt fixed percentages for psychological injuries did not mean that they were not meant to be subject to assessment. Instead, they believed the authors of The Guides were concerned that the use of fixed percentages would make it less likely that an adjudicator would take into account the many factors that influence mental and behavioral impairment. While the AMA Guidesacknowledge that assigning percentages of impairment for psychological permanent impairment cannot be done reliably, they also provide that when it is essential to make an estimate, doctors must use their best clinical judgment and attempt to do so as accurately as possible. Finally, the Court found that the definitions of permanent impairment in the Workers’ Compensation Act and AMA Guides are broad enough to include psychological impairment resulting from work injuries. 39-A M.R.S.A. §102(16) defines permanent impairment as “any anatomic or functional abnormality or loss.” [Emphasis added.] The Court also noted that the definition of impairment in theAMA Guides closely parallels that of the World Health Organization, which defines impairment as “any loss or abnormality of psychological, physiological or anatomical structure or function.”