An employer’s appeal of a decision of the Nova Scotia Workers Compensation Appeals Tribunal (“WCAT”) was dismissed when the court found there was evidence to support the WCAT’s conclusion that an intense meeting with a supervisor was a “traumatic event” such that the worker’s subsequent stress condition was an “accident” within the meaning of the Workers Compensation Act, S.N.S. 1994-95, c. 10.

Administrative law – Workers compensation – Benefits – Statutory provisions – Accident – Definition – Traumatic event – Decisions of administrative tribunals – Workers Compensation Boards – Judicial review – Standard of review – Correctness – Patent unreasonableness

Children’s Aid Society of Cape Breton-Victoria v. Nova Scotia (Workers’ Compensation Appeals Tribunal), [2005] N.S.J. No. 75, Nova Scotia Court of Appeal, February 23, 2005, M. MacDonald C.J.N.S., E.A. Roscoe and T.A. Cromwell JJ.A.

MacNeil was employed by Children’s Aid Society of Cape Breton-Victoria (the “Society”) from 1998 until 2003. MacNeil had a history of anxiety attacks dating back to 1997. These attacks became somewhat more frequent and more frequently required medication. In February 2002, there was an intense meeting with a supervisor. MacNeil left the meeting and went home. He attended on his family doctor that same day and was referred to a psychiatrist. MacNeil then suffered panic attacks which became more and more frequent and he began taking daily medication. MacNeil was ultimately diagnosed with post-traumatic stress syndrome and went on stress leave until September 2002. MacNeil claimed workers compensation benefits for this time period.

The WCAT overturned the prior decisions of the Case Manager and Hearing Officer in finding that the February 2002 meeting had been a traumatic event which resulted in post-traumatic stress syndrome and exacerbation of MacNeil’s pre-existing anxiety condition. The Society appealed this finding.

The court noted that the WCAT made two critical findings:

(1)  it concluded that the February meeting was a traumatic event; and

(2)  it found that MacNeil had an acute reaction to this event which gave rise to post-traumatic stress syndrome which exacerbated his pre-existing anxiety disorder.

The WCAT considered that an event was traumatic if it was something other than the commonplace workplace experiences of the particular worker. The evidence indicated that the meeting had been characterized by “personal attacks” by the supervisor against MacNeil and had culminated in a confrontation of a physical nature that was not a common workplace experience. The WCAT further found that the evidence of both the worker and his psychiatrist, Dr. Sheard was that MacNeil had a severe, intense reaction to the meeting. Dr. Sheard had diagnosed a recognized psychiatric illness which had its genesis in that meeting.

The court held that the standard of review to be applied to the WCAT decision with respect to issues relating to findings of fact was that of patent unreasonableness. With respect to the test of whether MacNeil had an acute reaction to a traumatic event, which the parties agreed was to be assessed using both the subjective and objective point of view, the court determined that the appropriate standard of review was correctness.

The court held that the WCAT employed the correct test in determining whether MacNeil had an acute reaction to a traumatic event. The court further found that there was sufficient evidence to support WCAT’s conclusion that the meeting had been traumatic and it could not be said that the WCAT’s conclusion was patently unreasonable.

In the result, the Society’s appeal was dismissed.

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