Domestic Violence


By now, everyone likely knows the name Gabby Petito, Brian Laundrie, and Moab, Utah. There have been abundant news stories, video clips, and analysis. I suspect that officials in Moab are rethinking their processes and training. The first video of a traffic stop there came online about a month ago, followed by a second. Having watched both, I found myself with questions about behaviors and reactions exhibited in the interactions. 

There is an interesting commentary published by a Tampa news station that includes Ms. Petito telling police that she was struck by Mr. Laundrie. There is also discussion of her striking him. There are various troubling portions of the video, but I encourage watching it. This clip includes the commentator's discussion of how police and others may strive to build communication during domestic violence situations. There is discussion of determining who the aggressor is, and other important inquiries or challenges for officials. The difficulty of such conflicts is discussed by a local news station, KUTV. The commentary there by a victim's advocate and others is interesting.

What is the point of our discussion though? This is, after all, a workers' compensation blog. What does domestic violence have to do with workers' compensation? In a nutshell, I am learning that domestic violence is (1) prevalent, (2) pervasive, and (3) pernicious. Its effects are both wide and deep. Read on. 

The Workers' Compensation Hotseat will air live on Thursday, October 28, 2021, 1:00 EDT, with a focus on domestic violence. In some ways, this follows on the workplace violence program we produced in August (by "we," of course, I mean Bob Wilson and the team at; I am privileged to be included, but I am fortunate to soar on their wings). The guests include psychologist Geralyn Datz, and two officials from FavorHouse, a non-profit shelter and assistance organization: Executive Director Marsha Travis and Injunction Protection Attorney Lori Prettyman. 

Sure, outside of the obvious telecommuting connection (work can and is literally in our domestic environ these days), what does does domestic violence have to do with work or workers' compensation? 
Well, the fact is that domestic violence is not the isolated, attention-grabbing, exceptional situation of Gabby Petito. Few victims receive the national news attention. The fact is that people we know, patients, claimants, professionals, may be struggling with domestic violence. We may pass them daily in the hall or encounter them sporadically in our community interactions. Do we know enough to notice their challenge(s)?
Specific to injured workers, we talk all the time in this community about social determinants of health and wellbeing, is freedom from violence relevant in that context? 
We have persistent discussions of the potential for work injuries to result in disability, would it surprise you to know that people living with disability are at much greater risk of such violence? Would it surprise you to find that a third of female workplace deaths are related to domestic violence? You should read Bob Wilson's post The Elephant in the Room: Does Domestic Abuse Affect Workers' Comp? (October 2021).
Reading his post got me thinking about where workers' compensation professionals might need to be aware of the implications of domestic violence. Certainly, spotting someone that is in need or even crisis is a responsibility everyone in the community shares. But, how does someone's personal life impact their injury recovery? Would you be surprised that one survey found almost two-thirds of violence victims said their work was affected? Issues surrounding domestic violence are said by some to cause about 8 million lost work days annually. Might these issues be existing challenges ("social determinants of health"), comorbidities in the recovery process, or exacerbating influences on both recovery and return to work?
There have been suggestions for years that the potential for domestic violence is important in legal proceedings. In particular, it has been a concern in the mediation process. Notably, there are those who criticize the MOAB police regarding Ms. Petito and Mr. Laundrie. Do those officials get enough training to spot domestic violence? According to the Harvard Negotiation Law Review, even people with specific training "fail to detect domestic violence." Even those who have screening devices in place can miss detection.
Detect it? How many of us can even define it? What is domestic violence anyway? Sure, we can all easily reply with examples like pushing, shoving, and hitting. It is deeper though, encompassing "power" and "control" in broad contexts. The United Nations defines it for us broadly:
"a pattern of behavior in any relationship that is used to gain or maintain power and control over an intimate partner. Abuse is physical, sexual, emotional, economic or psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another person." 
This topic is about physical violence. There is a need to discuss and better comprehend that. However, this topic is a whole lot deeper than the physical violence to which our minds may default. If we don't understand the breadth of the problem, recognizing it may be far more challenging for us all. There are implications in a variety of settings with an array of potential effects for victims. 
Domestic violence in litigation situations has been long recognized by the Florida Supreme Court, which requires Florida certified mediators to undergo continuing education for "interpersonal violence" as a condition for each certification renewal. In a tense litigation process, are decisions about resolution being made by the injured worker or are her/his actions being influenced by someone else's "power and control?" When we strive to see resolution of the claims, is the injured worker being allowed to maker his/her own decisions?
The recent news media coverage of the Petito/Laundrie, New York, Wyoming, Utah, Florida story may have you wondering about the topic. How might you perceive violence influencing healing or rehabilitation of injured workers? How might you perceive it impacting a coworker, fellow professional, or witness? How might you broach the subject with a worker, client, adjuster, employer, or others? What resources exist for you to help someone find help that they desire?
Thursday is going to be interesting and engaging. These panelists work on issues of domestic violence daily and will share their insights as to why the subject should concern the workers' compensation community as well as potential opportunities for us to help or at least inform victims. Tune in. The registration link is here. If you are reading this after October 28, 2021, no fears. The recordings of all the Hot Seat webinars are all available on
By Judge David Langham
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    About The Author

    • Judge David Langham

      David Langham is the Deputy Chief Judge of Compensation Claims for the Florida Office of Judges of Compensation Claims at the Division of Administrative Hearings. He has been involved in workers’ compensation for over 25 years as an attorney, an adjudicator, and administrator. He has delivered hundreds of professional lectures, published numerous articles on workers’ compensation in a variety of publications, and is a frequent blogger on Florida Workers’ Compensation Adjudication. David is a founding director of the National Association of Workers’ Compensation Judiciary and the Professional Mediation Institute, and is involved in the Southern Association of Workers’ Compensation Administrators (SAWCA) and the International Association of Industrial Accident Boards and Commissions (IAIABC). He is a vocal advocate of leveraging technology and modernizing the dispute resolution processes of workers’ compensation.

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