- The Washington Times - Monday, April 9, 2001

A Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority track repairman will continue receiving workers' compensation benefits despite differing medical opinions about whether his mood disorder was really caused by an electrical shock on the job.

The D.C. Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that former Metro employee Wayne Young's paranoia and memory losses appear to result from a mild shock he suffered June 23, 1991, when he touched an energized third rail on the Metrorail system. Doctors who testified for Metro said Mr. Young was faking.

The ruling clarifies the extent to which psychiatric injuries can be used as a basis for workers' compensation claims.

Pamela Blake, an assistant professor of neurology for Georgetown University Hospital, says, "I can definitely imagine that it would happen because the nervous system is very sensitive to electrical shock. Brain injuries can cause personality changes if there's injury to the frontal cortex. They're not really treatable."

Two co-workers saw Mr. Young touch the third rail, which was supposed to have been shut off. He was hospitalized for 2* days but doctors found no burns or other injuries on him. They suggested that he take one week off work.

Afterward, Mr. Young did not return to work. Metro paid him workers' compensation benefits for two months but then discontinued them.

Mr. Young filed a claim with the D.C. Department of Employment Services saying he should have the benefits reinstated. He said the shock injured his brain and gave him post-traumatic stress disorder.

A neurologist and a psychologist testified for Mr. Young saying that he did suffer a lingering injury. A psychiatrist for Metro, however, said at the hearing that Mr. Young "was attempting to imitate the symptoms he felt an individual who had been electrocuted would experience."

The hearing examiner agreed with the Metro psychiatrist and said Mr. Young's benefits should be discontinued. Mr. Young appealed.

During a new hearing, another psychiatrist testified for Mr. Young, saying he suffered organic brain damage from the electrical shock. The disorder showed itself after the first hearing and was getting worse, the psychiatrist said.

"The distractibility, the inability to focus, the need for repetition, the difficulty with memory, all are significant to me in terms of diagnosing somebody as organic," testified Bruce Smoller, a Chevy Chase neuropsychiatrist. He also said Mr. Young's paranoia and inability to concentrate would make it difficult for him to hold a job, even if there was an employer willing to tolerate his bizarre behavior.

The appeals court believed Dr. Smoller instead of the doctors for Metro.

"In concluding that Young was not faking, Dr. Smoller emphasized not only his own experience in evaluating subjects, but also and especially the confirmation furnished by Young's wife, who described her own detailed observations of Young over an extended period of time," the court said.

The appeals court awarded Mr. Young temporary total disability benefits. He will be paid $390.06 per week, which represents two-thirds of his salary with Metro, until he is able to return to work.

David Schloss, attorney for Mr. Young, said his client underwent three years of treatment for his disorder after the first hearing only to hear that he lost his initial claim for benefits. "This guy was really put through the ringer," Mr. Schloss said.

His victory after appealing the case showed that psychiatric injuries can be as disabling as physical injuries, he said.

"I think D.C. has been better than some jurisdictions in recognizing mental health issues as disabling," Mr. Schloss said. "Clearly in Mr. Young's case, that's exactly what happened."

Alan Sundburg, attorney for Metro said, "My client and I will have to review this matter to determine whether there will be anything further with this."


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