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Longshore: Employee was killed by abuse of painkillers – not consequence of work injury.

Consequential injury under the Longshore/Defense Base Act.

When an employee sustains an injury at work followed by a subsequent injury or aggravation outside of work, the employer is liable for the entire disability and for medical expenses due to both injuries if the subsequent injury is the natural or unavoidable result of the original work injury and would have occurred notwithstanding the subsequent injury. If the subsequent progression of the condition is not a natural or unavoidable result of the work injury, but is the result of an intervening cause, the employer is relieved of liability for disability attributable to the intervening cause.

Widow claims husband’s death was “natural result” of work injury.

In a notable recent case, a longshoreman had an admitted leg injury at work. The employer voluntarily paid temporary total disability and medical benefits. The claimant was prescribed pain medications (Fentanyl patch, oxycodone). Two-and-a-half years later, the claimant underwent an (unrelated) tonsillectomy. He was prescribed pain medications following the (unrelated) surgery, which he took in addition to his “work related” pain meds. Three weeks later, he was dead. The autopsy revealed that Employee died from a multi-drug overdose related to his use of pain killers for both the leg injury and the subsequent non-work related surgeries. The widow filed a claim for death benefits.

Failure to comply with doctor recommendations was an “intervening cause” of death – case dismissed.

At trial the employer was able to prove that the decedent did not tell his doctors that he was taking pain pills for both the work injury and the non-work injury. The trial judge found that the decedent’s failure to inform his doctors of his pain killer abuse was the action that led to his death. The decision was upheld on appeal to the benefits Review Board.

Case: Sinegal v. Island Operating Company, BRB 11-0199 (Decided October 25, 2011).

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