Psychiatric injury claims and workers’ compensation in Queensland

Psychological injuries are increasingly common. This is unsurprising. If you suffer any type of injury at work – even if it’s a physical injury at first – this can have a profound (and long term) impact on your day-to-day life. For example, our clients with spinal injuries often report they can’t exercise, they can’t lift their young children, they can’t sit or stand for any reasonable periods – all this takes its mental toll over time.


What is a psychological (mental) injury?

A psychological injury is any type of recognised psychological condition. Common examples include Anxiety, Adjustment Disorder, Depression and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. What doesn’t count are things like work stress or “normal” grief.


Sometimes the lines are blurred, and different doctors can arrive at different diagnoses. For example, a GP might view something as work stress whereas a psychologist might diagnose the same thing as anxiety.


Compensation rights

In Queensland, a person with a psychiatric (mental) injury has the same compensation rights as everybody else. Just like a worker who suffers physical injuries can apply for workers’ compensation, the same is true for a person who suffers psychiatric injuries.


Primary vs secondary psychological injury

In work injury cases, WorkCover Queensland distinguishes between primary and secondary psychological injuries.


Let’s say you are the victim of physical assault at work. You are not actually physically hurt. But over the next few days and weeks, you have flashbacks, you can’t sleep and generally develop symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Your PTSD is a primary psychological injury: you didn’t suffer a physical injury, but the assault caused PTSD.


By contrast, let’s say due to repetitive heavy lifting, you suffer a spinal injury. Initially you have physio, but it doesn’t help. Surgery follows, but symptoms persist. You can’t return to your normal work. You can’t exercise. You can’t clean your house or maintain the yard. You need help with grocery shopping. You can’t lift your child or take them to sports and so on. You become depressed. Your spinal injury is your primary injury and the depression is a secondary injury. It happens because your lasting spinal injury is impacting every aspect of your normal life.


Sometimes (not always) it’s harder to get a primary psychological injury claim accepted. (As of 2021/2022 WorkCover rejected close to 50% of psychological claims as compared to just under 4% of physical injury claims.)


In some situations, it’s relatively easy to get a positive decision. If you are the subject of a violent attack at work, it’s understandable that you may develop a psychological condition even if you didn’t suffer physical harm. Sometimes, it gets more difficult. For example, if you develop anxiety because you have “too much on” at work, then WorkCover will apply scrutiny to see if your claim meets eligibility criteria.


Permanent impairment assessment for mental injuries

Let’s say you have suffered both a physical and a psychological injury in a work incident. You have been receiving workers’ compensation benefits for a while and you are wondering what happens towards the end of your claim. WorkCover must ask a specialist to assess your injuries to see if they resulted in a permanent impairment. What follows is a brief outline of what happens next.


As far as any physical injury is concerned, WorkCover treats this completely separate from the mental injury. They will send you to a specialist for an assessment. The specialist will only deal with the physical injury. They will not ask any questions about the mental injury. They will then give their report to WorkCover, which will contain a permanent impairment assessment of your physical injury, without any mention of the mental condition. For example, it might say that you suffered a disc prolapse associated with a degree of whole person impairment of 8%.


For the mental injury, WorkCover will first send you to a psychiatrist. The main objective here is to see if the psychological injury is stable and stationary. If it is not, then your WorkCover claim continues even if the physical injury has already been assessed. If the psychiatrist thinks that your mental injury is stable and stationary, then WorkCover will send you to the Medical Assessment Tribunal. This is compulsory in each case involving a mental injury, no matter how mild or serious.


The MAT comprises three psychiatrists. You won’t know their names until the day of the appointment. When you attend, the MAT will conduct an interview. At the end the MAT will prepare its report and send it to WorkCover. The report will contain the MAT’s assessment of your degree of permanent impairment. This assessment only relates to the mental injury, without any reference to the physical injury. We have prepared a detailed guide about what happens before the MAT, which you can read here.


Once WorkCover has obtained an assessment in relation to both the physical injury and the mental injury, it will issue two Notices of Assessment. This will happen at the same time. One of the notices will relate to all of your physical injuries (if any). The other notice is exclusively about the psychological injuries. The percentage impairments for physical and psychological injuries can’t be combined.


WorkCover will close your claim after it has issued both assessments.

Free book offer: what to expect in your injury claim

Many firms try to rush you to sign up with them without carefully considering your options. We encourage you to first learn about your personal injury claim. You should ask yourself:

  • How do you calculate your compensation amount?
  • How should you choose your lawyer? Do you just choose by firm name regardless of who is really in charge of your matter? Has your lawyer ever argued a case in court?
  • What is a no win – no fee agreement? How much will it cost?

Our book is available to you free of charge. You don’t have to be a client to receive this book. Head to the order page and we will be happy to send you a copy straight away.

Oszkar Denes Seven Deadly Sins that can wreck your personal injury claim

25% Cap on legal costs

In all of our personal injury compensation matters, we act on a  No Win – No Fee basis. What that means is, there’s no upfront cost to you.


In Queensland, most compensation firms will charge you 50% of your compensation amount – the maximum allowed at law. This is very expensive. Our fee is different. We will cap our fee at 25% . Remember also, these are the maximum fees we will charge. If our fee in your claim is less, then we charge the lesser amount.


Before you engage us, we will provide you a written Disclosure Notice and a Client Service Agreement. These documents set out in detail the service we provide, as well as our fees and outlays. Before you sign anything, you can take these documents home with you, and study them with your family. You can take as long as you need, there is never any pressure from us. If anything in these documents doesn’t make sense to you, we can discuss it with you and you are free to ask another lawyer to give you advice.  And remember, no win – no fee agreements come with a 5 day cooling off period for extra peace of mind.