83-Year-Old Home Depot Employee Death: Injured Workers in the News #72

An 83-year-old Home Depot Worker died six weeks after sustaining a work injury.  He had been shoved to the ground by a serial shoplifter while apparently trying to stop a theft.  The Home Depot Worker sustained injuries as a result of the shove and he lived for 5 weeks before passing. The medical examiner has ruled the death to be a homicide. Dailymail.com

This article will discuss how the Injured Worker’s death was work-related for the purposes of obtaining death benefits.

Does A Time Delay Between The Work Injury and The Death Matter for the Purposes of Pursuing a Death Claim?

Yes and No.  California Workers’ Compensation Law provides for 240 weeks from the date of the injury to the date of death for the period of the delay.  Deaths happening beyond this period are likely barred by the statute of limitations.   Thus, a five week delay in the passing would be within the statute of limitation.  The claim would be timely and dependency death benefits are warranted.

Does the Medical Examiner’s Opinion of Homicide Determine  Industrial Causation?

No.  The Medical Examiner’s opinion that the death was a homicide is a medical determination within the area of criminal law. In California, workers’ compensation and criminal law have different burdens of proof.   California Workers’ Compensation Law has a reasonable medical probability standard.   Likewise, the work injury’s relation to the death has a specific standard as well.  The South Coast Framing case standard that applies:  It is well established that for the purpose of meeting the causation requirement in a workers’ compensation injury claim, it is sufficient if the work is a contributing cause of the injury. (South Coast Framing, Inc. v. Workers’ Comp. Appeals Bd. (2015) 61 Cal. 4th 291, [188 Cal. Rptr. 3d 46, 349 P.3d 141, 80 Cal. Comp. Cases 489].) “

Thus,Workers’ Compensation medical examiners will have to express an opinion whether, within reasonable medical probability, that the work injury was a contributing factor in the Injured Worker’s death.   Arguably, the Medical Examiner’s opinion, which most likely is criminal law based, expresses that it a higher standard than workers’ compensation law requires.

While one could argue that the Medical Examiner’s opinion should be binding, there argument is arguing apples and oranges.  Even with such an opinion, it is likely that a carrier would also seek an opinion within the workers’ compensation system.  This could be a QME, a Treating Doctor or an Agreed Medical Examiner on the issue.

What if I Need Advice?

If you would like a free consultation regarding workers’ compensation, please contact the Law Offices of Edward J. Singer, a Professional Law Corporation. We have been helping people in Central and Southern California deal with their workers’ compensation cases for 27 years. Contact us today for more information.

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A Hospital Worker tragically died.   Law enforcement considers the death to be a homicide.  The alleged cause for the homicide was a kick in the groin.   Do the facts give rise to legitimate workers’ compensation  work-related death claim?

It is reported as follows:  a Hospital Worker had an altercation with a patient.   A mental health evaluation patient was trying to leave the hospital when the staff tried to prevent her from leaving.  The incident got physical.   The patient began to “swing her arms and pull away from security when (an employee) attempted to grab her arms. The Mental Health Unit eventually had to step in.” The patient allegedly started to kick and then struck a Hospital Worker with her knee in the groin.  The Hospital Worker, after the injury, was in the ICU for three days. Tragically, he died. katv.com

The article reporting on the matter indicated that “[a]uthorities say after a review of medical records and investigation, the cause of death is physiological stress associated with a physical altercation in the setting of cardiomegaly and obesity.”  katv.com

The coroner commented that “[t]here’s a lot of people walking around with the same medical conditions he had, that might live for another 15-20 or 25 years, had it not been for the kick to the groin.”  katv.com

This article will discuss the hurdles required to prove a death claim in this matter.  This article will discuss issues of causation and medical legal reporting.

Is The Coroner’s Opinion Enough to Prove the Death Is Work-Related?

The answer is “no.”  In California, Workers’ Compensation Law has standards of causation.  The doctors must express their opinion within the workers’ compensation framework.  With respect to a death claim, the medical evaluator should express their opinion within reasonable medical probability.  Further, with respect to a death case, the issue is whether the industrial injury was a “contributing” cause.  The South Coast Framing case  established the “contributing cause” standard for death cases.  (South Coast Framing, Inc. v. Workers’ Comp. Appeals Bd. (2015) 61 Cal.4th 291 [188 Cal.Rptr.3d 46, 349 P.3d 141].)  As we don’t know whether the Coroner’s opinion was within reasonable medical probability or whether it addressed causation as a contributing cause, on it’s face, it could not be used as evidence.

Thus, a medical opinion must have the correct language.   It should also be noted that criminal law has a different burden of proof.  Therefore, clarification is needed within a workers’ compensation framework.  It is possible that what might not be considered criminal causation can still be valid for the purposes of industrial causation.

What Medical Evidence  Is Needed To Proof the Death Was Work-Related?

In this matter, either the treating physician or a medical evaluator, QME or AME,  should be employed to render an opinion on industrial causation of the death.   The question would be whether the attack “contributed” to the injured worker’s death.  The worker’s involvement, i.e. physical activities, in the altercation can be viewed as a whole as opposed to the mere kick.  In other words, the stress, mental or physical, from the incident can be considered with respect to industrial causation for the death.  As noted, workers’ compensation should look at the totality of the incident and not the mere kick to the groin to make the assessment.

What if I Need Advice?

If you would like a free consultation regarding workers’ compensation, please contact the Law Offices of Edward J. Singer, a Professional Law Corporation. We have been helping people in Central and Southern California deal with their workers’ compensation cases for 27 years. Contact us today for more information.

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