Plaintiff Wolf achieves an open award for mental disabilities and the Court of Appeals addressed the "reasonable person" standard and in the process may have made it easier for the plaintiff's bar.
Wolf was a management supervisor for General Motors. He supervised between 35 and 39 production employees. According to the employee, the stress and pressure associated with the position caused him to suffer from disabling depression. He petitioned for and was granted an open award of benefits for a mental disability. The magistrate's decision was upheld on appeal. The magistrate conducted an objective evaluation and concluded that the events and employee's reactions were real and actual, not delusional or imaginary.
Entitlement to benefits for mental disabilities is governed by MCL 418.301(2), which states: Mental disabilities and conditions of the aging process, including but not limited to heart and cardiovascular conditions, shall be compensable if contributed to or aggravated or accelerated by the employment in a significant manner. Mental disabilities shall be compensable when arising out of actual events of employment, not unfounded perceptions thereof.
The standard of review is premised on the Supreme Court's decision in Robertson . The Supreme Court called for an "objective review", or "reasonable person" analysis of the claimant's perception or apprehension of the actual events of employment. Benefits are only appropriate when the claimant proves (1) that there has been an actual employment event leading to his disability, and (2) that the claimant's perception is grounded in fact or reality, not delusion or the imagination of an impaired mind. According to the Robertson court, the magistrate was charged with determining how a "reasonable person" would have perceived the events that plaintiff perceived "humiliating" and "stressful." Because of the introduction of the "reasonable person" standard, the plaintiff's burden of proof was raised.
The Wolf decision has changed the application of the "reasonable person" standard. No longer is there an analysis whether a "reasonable person" would have perceived an event as stressful or humiliating. The Wolf court held that the "reasonable person" test requires only that the magistrate determine if plaintiff's "perception of such events was reasonably grounded in fact or reality." More weight is now placed on the plaintiff's credibility regarding the occurrence of the events and his reaction to those events.
The Court of Appeals justified itself by quoting from a footnote from the Robertson decision: "Our Supreme Court counseled that the inquiry ultimately seeks to ensure that the purpose of the Legislature is fulfilled, i.e. that compensation is limited to "mental disabilities that arose out of actual events of employment, not to those that were attributable to the mere imaginings of the employee." Robertson, at 755 n 11."
In the event that the Wolf decision is appealed the Supreme Court will have the opportunity to review the "reasonable person" standard again.