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Torrey: Mental Stress/Mental Disability Claims of Slaughterhouse Workers

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In an article appearing in the review Animal Law, the author argues that workers in slaughterhouses should have access to workers’ compensation benefits if they fall victim to the mental trauma of killing animals all day.

David B. Torrey

David B. Torrey

Vanessa Hemenway, the author, correctly explains that in many states, mental stress causing mental disability cases are not cognizable, as physical animus must always precipitate mental disability.  In other jurisdictions, however, like California, Colorado and New York, such claims may be cognizable. 

Even in those states, however, workers with repeated mental trauma from work in slaughterhouses would face an uphill battle with their claims. For example, she identifies California as a state where “actual” emotionally traumatic events must be “predominant as to all causes combined [regarding] the psychiatric injury.”

Meanwhile, court precedent establishes that “predominant as to all causes” means “50% or more causation.”

These roadblocks to relief are, in the author’s view, unfortunate. She sets forth the findings of research that show that slaughterhouse workers are at risk for mental issues arising out of the uniquely distressing nature of their work. The author’s thesis, in this regard, seems highly informed by a 2008 article by Jennifer Dillard, A Slaughterhouse Nightmare: Psychological Harm Suffered by Slaughterhouse Employees and the Possibility of Redress Through Legal Reform, which appeared in the Georgetown Journal on Poverty Law & Policy. 

Both Dillard and Hemenway, notably, argue for recognition of a post-traumatic stress disorder-type syndrome from which slaughterhouse workers may suffer. “Research,” Hemenway states, “suggests that [such] workers may suffer from ‘perpetration-induced traumatic stress (PITS) as a form of [PTSD],’ which occurs in situations where the perpetrator inflicts violence that causes PTSD in his victims. PITS sufferers include ‘people such as combat veterans, executioners and Nazis.' Dillard frames [the] constant killing as ‘creating an employment situation ripe for psychological problems.’” 

Hemenway concludes her article with a call for more research on the mental health of slaughterhouse workers.  

The author of this passionate note identifies herself as an attorney for the Bronx, New York, Family Court, and adds to her brief biography that, as to diet and lifestyle (no surprise) she is vegan.

Her essay is short on establishing that any crisis in this area of recovery exists, but it is valuable for identifying this overlooked issue and providing footnotes full of the critical research references. If this writer (an administrative law judge) is assigned a slaughterhouse-worker mental disability claim, I’ll be ready.

David B. Torrey is adjunct professor of law at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law and a workers’ compensation judge with the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry. This entry is republished from the Workers' Compensation Law Professors blog, with permission.

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