Nebraska High Court’s Workers’ Comp Ruling for Assaulted Nurse Stands

The Nebraska Supreme Court on Friday upheld a workers’ compensation ruling requiring a Kearney hospital to pay the salary of a former nurse who says she’s unable to work because of psychological injuries she received from three assaults at the hands of patients while she was on the job.

The ruling requires Good Samaritan Hospital to pay the former nurse $578 a week for nearly three years for her temporary disability, then $644 a week for as long as she remains permanently disabled. The hospital also must pay her medical bills.

The woman says she suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and depression as a result of three assaults that occurred in 2008 while she worked as a nurse in the hospital’s mental health unit. The first assault happened in April 2008, when a patient whipped her with an appliance cord and punched her in the jaw. In the weeks that followed, she reported being kicked and bitten by a patient and on another occasion being grabbed by a male patient who made “extremely aggressive” sexual comments to her.

In its appeal, the hospital argued, among other things, that a psychiatric expert’s testimony saying the assaults caused the nurse’s psychological disability should not have been allowed. The hospital’s expert had argued that past experiences of the nurse, including a prior sexual assault, may have been the source of her trauma.

But the state’s high court dismissed that suggestion.

“There is no indication that (the woman) experienced symptoms of PTSD, major depressive disorder, or any other significant psychiatric problems in the 15 years prior to the initial assault in April 2008,” Justice John Wright wrote for the court. “(She) required extensive treatment following the three incidents, including electroconvulsive therapy, which (a psychiatrist) stated is ‘a treatment option of last resort for major depressive disorders.’ We find sufficient evidence to support the court’s determination that (the woman’s) injuries arose as a result of her work-related accident.”

The woman’s attorney, John Fowles of Lincoln, declined to comment on the ruling except to say his client was pleased.

An attorney for the hospital did not immediately return a message left Friday.