The Missouri Supreme Court’s heard arguments over Worker’s Compensation benefits for a Missouri Department of Transportation worker.
Linda Mantia was diagnosed with multiple disorders after being exposed to graphic scenes at fatality accidents while employed as a maintenance supervisor in St. Louis County.
She made her case for compensation in 2008 before an Administrative Law Judge at the state Department of Labor. There, she testified to have been on the scene at more than 1,000 road accidents over a 20 year period, pinpointing 14 especially grisly fatalities.
In one of them, she said she’d witnessed a person being beheaded, and while walking, inadvertently kicked the decapitated head.
She testified she would hide her feelings by resorting to dark humor about the incidents. She explained that she was the only woman in her crew and didn’t want her male coworkers to think that she wasn’t tough.
Mantia testified that by 2008, she began to seek medical care. First, her family physician diagnosed her with “depression”, placed her on medication and sent her to psychiatrist. The psychiatrist similarly determined she had depression and also ordered medication.
A psychologist ultimately diagnosed her as having a major depressive disorder and a post-traumatic stress disorder. He gave Mantia a rating of 35 out of 100 on a scale clinicians use to determine mental health and said she was psychologically unable to work.
A psychiatrist who evaluated her for MoDOT came up with a much milder diagnosis and deemed her fit to work.
Initially, the Administrative Law Judge denied Mantia’s claim for Workers’ Compensation, but a three person panel within the state Labor Department reversed the decision. It awarded her two-thirds of her salary for 200 weeks for her disability.
The case landed in the Supreme Court after MoDOT appealed the decision.
Representing the department before the high bench, attorney Jeffrey Wright argued that Mantia’s experiences weren’t out of the ordinary for the type of work she did. He noted that she admitted as much while testifying before the administrative judge.
“Even though there were 14 specific events she talked about, she said it was over 1,000 times” said Wright. “She also said people who worked for MoDOT in the maintenance supervisor position experienced this all the time. These were common occurrences to her.”
Wright also said there was no corroborating evidence proving Mantia actually experienced the events she described, and argued only firefighters and police officers qualify for the compensation she was awarded.
Arguing on behalf of Mantia, attorney Jeffery Swaney claimed she deserved compensation after constantly being exposed to horrific scenes at fatality accidents.
“This is a woman who witnessed a boy burning in a car and the boy screaming as he was dying, who saw the strange color of a man who was asphyxiated, who was examining an accident scene and when walking around accidentally kicked a decapitated head” said Swaney.
“This is a situation of someone here who has seen a coworker whose skull has been crushed, who has seen an individual whose had been impaled by a guardrail, and saw the look in her eyes as she had her hands on the wheel as she laid there lifeless.”
The court has not made a decision in the case and has no specified timetable to render one.