SUICIDE, SUICIDAL THOUGHTS AND WORKERS’ COMPENSATION: WHAT YOU NEED KNOW

Suicide and Suicidal Thoughts among Injured Workers are serious concerns. The Workers’ Compensation Community, Employers, Insurance Companies, Attorneys, Medical Providers. Attorneys and Judges are aware that Injured Workers can suffer to the point at which these events can occur

The Workers’ Compensation Community understands that Suicide and Suicidal Thoughts need to be addressed either through medical treatment and/or compensation. Both Suicide and Suicidal Thoughts can have an impact on an Injured Worker’s workers’ compensation claim.

Psychiatric Injuries can involve suicidal thoughts. Psychiatric Injuries with suicidal thoughts can give rise to treatment issues. Suicidal Thoughts may impact a permanent disability award.

Further, Medications taken for various industrial medical problems can also give Injured Workers suicidal thoughts. Medication may also be implicated in suicide attempts and suicidal ideation.

In the event of a Suicide, there are issues of industrial causation and as to whether the death represents a death claim for which compensation should be provided to the Injured Worker’s dependents.

This article will discuss both Suicide and Suicidal Thoughts within the workers’ compensation system.

 

What is Suicide?

Suicide is a willful and voluntary act of individuals who essentially kill themselves. Further, the person committing the act understands what they are doing.

There are times, however, in which someone may kill themselves but have not formulated the intent to do so. A classic example of a death without suicidal intent is an individual who takes too many of a particular medication.

The individual may not have realized that the excessive amount taken was lethal. There are times an individual may be taking multiple medications at the same time that are contraindicated.

The combination of these drugs, unknown to the Injured Worker, is lethal. Finally, there are Injured Workers who combine prescription medications with street drugs or alcohol. The mix can have a lethal result. Again, the individual may or may not have intended the combination to be lethal in nature.

A case relating to this was the City of Foster City, The Cities Group, Petitioners v. Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board 78 C.C..C. 1330 (writ denied.) In that case, “[a]n autopsy revealed Decedent had a lethal concentration of hydrocodone in his blood. Low doses of Valium were also found in Decedent’s blood.

The coroner concluded that Decedent died as a result of acute hydrocodone and hydromorphine intoxication. The coroner did not, however, rule the death of suicide.

It was noted in the WCJ’s opinion, that “[t]here is no evidence that Mr. McLaughlin intended to cause his death, or knowingly acted with the knowledge that there would be a great likelihood of overdosing, as asserted by the defendant.

Defendant has not met its burden of proving a statutory exception under either Labor Code § 3600(a)(4) or any other statute to a finding of compensable death.”

 

Is there a Labor Code Section Concerning Intentional Acts?

Yes. Labor Code Section 3600(a)(5) provides for an exception to the entitlement to compensation benefits where the injury is intentionally self-inflicted. Suicide, by its definition, is a self-inflicted injury.

Therefore, in general, death as a result of suicide will not be compensable. There are workers’ compensation cases, however, which find an exception to the general rule.

 

Are there Exceptions to the Rule? Can There be Compensable Suicide?

Labor Code section 3600, subdivision (a)(6) prohibits recovery of workers’ compensation benefits if the employee “willfully and deliberately” caused his own death. Because the decedent’s mental state determines eligibility, it is subjected to intense legal and medical scrutiny.

An employee need not be criminally insane or in a delusional frenzy. (Donovan v. Workers’ Comp. Appeals Bd. (1982) 138 Cal.App.3d 323, 327–328 [187 Cal. Rptr. 869, 47 Cal. Comp. Cases 1411] (Donovan).)

The suicidal act can be one of conscious volition; the person can indeed  understand the nature and consequences of what he is doing. (Burnight v. Industrial Acc. Com. (1960) 181 Cal.App.2d 816, 826 [5 Cal. Rptr. 786, 25 Cal. Comp. Cases 121] (Burnight).) ” ‘Where the suicide of an employee is directly caused by his injuries and their consequences, his death is not intentionally self-inflicted or willful so as to bar compensation, where he kills himself under compulsion of an irresistible or uncontrollable impulse, or while in a delirium or frenzy or where the injuries suffered by the deceased result in his becoming devoid of normal judgment and dominated by a disturbance of mind.’ [Citation.]” (Id. at p. 822.) See Toshi v. Workers’ Compensation Appeals Bd., 72 Cal. Comp. Cases 420, 2007 Cal. Wrk. Comp. LEXIS 111 (Cal. App. 3d Dist. April 03, 2007)(Not published) (Note: case is not a citeable case. The caselaw discussed within it, however, is informative as to the exception to the bar from compensation for self-inflicted acts.)

In sum, suicide may be compensable if there was some disturbance that compromised the Individual’s control during the commission of the act.

 

If there is a Psychiatric Claim, Must the Psychiatric Claim be Compensable to Claim an Industrial Suicidal?

Yes. Caselaw suggests that there must be an underlying compensable psychiatric injury in order to claim a compensable suicide. In Rockefeller v. Workers’ Comp. Appeals Bd., 83 Cal. Comp. Cases 1588, 2018 Cal. Wrk. Comp. LEXIS 79 (Cal. App. 3d Dist. August 16, 2018) (writ denied), it was noted that since there was no compensable psychiatric injury, there could be no finding of an industrially-related suicide.

 

If there is a Suicide that Took Place and It is Within the Exception, What Does That Mean?

If there is a suicide that is considered work-related, then death benefits are available to the Dependents. There are, however, time frames for filing death claims.

 

Are There Any Treatment Issues Concerning Suicide or Suicidal Thought?

Yes. All medical treatment in California Workers’ Compensation Law is subject to both Utilization Review and Independent Medical Review.

In a recent Independent Medical Review decision, there was an issue concerning a psychiatric evaluation. It was noted that a “psychiatric evaluation is the core element of suicide risk assessment.

Based on these guidelines, the IMR reviewer found that the most appropriate step, in this case, was an immediate emergency psychiatric consultation, which was approved and was indicated where applicant did not voluntarily agree to hospitalization and cannot be involuntarily committed until a psychiatrist determines, after a complete suicide risk evaluation is performed, that an inpatient stay is imperative for applicant’s safety.

The IMR reviewer concluded that until such psychiatric evaluation is performed, the request for inpatient hospitalization is not medically necessary and appropriate. See IMR Decision CM18-0024432

 

Is there any Permanent Disability Related to Suicidal Thoughts or Ideation?

Yes. In California, the Global Assessment of Functioning (GAF) Scale which is used for assessing Psychiatric Impairment. It considers Suicidal Thoughts, Suicidal Ideation, Suicidal Preoccupation, Suicidal Attempts Without Clear Expectation of Death, and Suicidal Attempts with the Clear Expectation of Death in determining the GAF Score.

This GAF score will be used and converted to a Permanent Disability Percentage. If you wish to know more about GAF scores, See http://www.workinjuryhelp.com/gaf-score-meaning-what-you-need-to-know/

 

Where Can I Get Legal Advice?

If you would like a free consultation regarding workers’ compensation, please contact the Law Offices of Edward J. Singer, a Professional Law Corporation.

They have been helping people in Central and Southern California deal with their worker’s compensation cases for 26 years. Contact us today for more information.

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