Youth Academy Worker Wins Appeal in WC Claim For Student Attack

22 Aug, 2019 Liz Carey

                               

Nashville, TN (WorkersCompensation.com) – The Tennessee Supreme Court has ruled in favor a worker who claims he was psychologically impaired following an assault by a student at the academy where he works.

The three-judge appellate panel of the Supreme Court of Tennessee upheld a trial court’s ruling in Natchez Trace Youth Academy v. Tidwell that found in favor of Tidwell’s claim of disability and monetary damages due to a workers’ compensation claim.

According to court documents filed August 16, Christopher Tidwell was working as a youth service officer at the Natchez Trace Youth Academy when he was injured during a struggle with a resident. On June 28, 2013, Tidwell claimed he was injured by a resident armed with a pushpin or thumbtack who punched Tidwell in the face.

Tidwell, court records show, took time off because of the incident, but came back to work after a week with the understanding that he not have contact with residents at the youth living at the treatment facility. Within weeks, however, Tidwell was required to wake children up due to other staff members not arriving on time, at which point Tidwell hyperventilated out of fear that one of the residents could “blindside” him again.

As a result, Tidwell sought treatment for anxiety and depression, as well as for his facial injuries which required plastic surgery. Tidwell filed a workers’ compensation claim for the psychological and physical injuries. In the filing, court records show, Tidwell claimed he could not return to work in a position that made him come into contact with troubled youth. He also claimed that the incident made him “unable to get along with people.”

Tidwell testified that the physician he chose from those provided by his employer, Dr. Noel Dominguez, advised him that he should remain off of work until he saw a psychiatrist. Dominguez provided him with an excuse, which Tidwell said he gave to the Academy’s human resources director, Tamra Gadberry.

Later, during treatment for his facial injuries, Tidwell said he felt suicidal. According to court records, Tidwell was immediately admitted for evaluation. Following this, the Department of Labor ordered Natchez Trace to provide Tidwell with psychiatric treatment, where he was diagnosed with PTSD.

Tidwell testified that he believed he could not return to any work situation because of his inability to “deal with people.” Tidwell said he had not had any psychiatric conditions prior to the incident.

But representatives with Natchez Trace said Tidwell had been cleared to return to work, and failed to do so, resulting in the academy assuming that he had abandoned his position. Different work return excuses from different physicians provided different days on which Tidwell was supposed to return to work, and with different restrictions.

The academy countered that Tidwell failed to make a meaningful return to work. The academy also argued that the lower court was wrong when it found that Tidwell had suffered a compensable psychiatric injury.

In its findings, the court ruled that Tidwell had made an attempt to return to work, and that evidence showed he required a psychiatric evaluation before returning to his position. The court also ruled that medical evidence showed Tidwell suffered a psychiatric injury from the incident.

The court agreed with the lower court and awarded Tidwell nearly $100,000 in disability payments, as well as unpaid temporary total disability benefits. The court overruled, however, discretionary costs the trial court had approved for “expert witness depositions.”


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    • Liz Carey

      Liz Carey has worked as a writer, reporter and editor for nearly 25 years. First, as an investigative reporter for Gannett and later as the Vice President of a local Chamber of Commerce, Carey has covered everything from local government to the statehouse to the aerospace industry. Her work as a reporter, as well as her work in the community, have led her to become an advocate for the working poor, as well as the small business owner.

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