Smart v. Department of Public Safety

Background:
Smart suffered a work-related mental stress injury in the course of his employment as a Maine state trooper. The employer sought to establish permanent impairment below the statutory threshold in order to discontinue his partial benefits pursuant to the weekly limitation on partial benefits in Section 213(4).

Smart was evaluated by a Section 312 independent medical examiner, who established 40 to 45% permanent impairment as a result of work-related major depressive disorder, anxiety disorder and obsessive-compulsive personality disorder. However, instead of using the 4th Edition of the AMA Guides as prescribed by Board Rule, the examiner used the 2nd Edition of the AMA Guides.

The employer appealed, contending that it was error to assign permanent impairment to Smart’s mental injuries because the 4th Edition of the AMA Guides does not contain specific numerical ratings for mental and behavioral conditions. They also argued that it was error for the independent medical examiner to rely on a source other than the 4th Edition of the AMA Guides to arrive at a percentage of permanent impairment. 

Court ruling:

The Court quickly disposed of the employer’s first argument. The Court had recently ruled that it was proper to assign permanent impairment to the mental sequella of a physical injury. See Harvey v. H.C. Price, 2008 ME 161, 957 A.2d 960. The Court found that the reasoning used in Harvey applies equally to Smart’s injury, a mental injury resulting from work-related stress.

On the other hand, the Court agreed that it was error for the hearing officer to adopt the permanent impairment rating given by the independent medical examiner. Use of the 4th Edition of the AMA Guides is mandated by Workers’ Compensation Board Rule. The independent medical examiner’s opinion regarding permanent impairment, because it was based on the 2nd Edition, was therefore insufficient to establish the level of permanent impairment. The case was remanded to the hearing officer for a redetermination of permanent impairment.

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