Mass. Widow Awarded Workers Comp Death Benefits in Suicide Case

September 17, 2007

  • September 17, 2007 at 10:22 am
    lastbat says:
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    We need to take a closer look at depression cases overall in regards to workers’ compensation, but especially in cases such as this. He killed himself because he was fired – not because he hurt his back. And quite frankly even if he killed himself because he hurt his back his widow should still not be entitled to death benefits. I’m a stickler when it comes to proving mental health effects (granted, I’m just an on-site safety guy) I think most claims are bull.

  • September 17, 2007 at 10:33 am
    GB says:
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    The company was obligated to take care of the work related injury. Unless they found some shortcoming in that, I’d think the company shouldn’t be blamed for the suicide. Unless the widow could show that he sought mental health care and was denied it, this is just crazy. For one thing…suicide is a crime. Benefits don’t usually extend to cover employees during criminal behavior.

  • September 17, 2007 at 1:02 am
    Betsy says:
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    Mass wc law actually says: Dependents shall not be precluded from recovery under this chapter, nor shall the insurance company be relieved from making payment to the commonwealth under section sixty-five, for death by suicide of the employee, if it be shown by the weight of the evidence that, due to the injury, the employee was of such unsoundness of mind as to make him irresponsible for his act of suicide.

    Based on the law, the holding doesn’t seem unreasonable.

    P.S. Suicide is a crime only in some states.

  • September 17, 2007 at 1:03 am
    WCman says:
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    Another absurd ruling by an administrative judge that defies logical reasoning. I’d bet this guy was depressed before he lost his job. Just another example of the courts unwillingness to make the tough calls.

  • September 17, 2007 at 1:11 am
    GB says:
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    I guess the ruling followed the letter of the law….but it doesn’t seem right. A company should pay for an injury that its responsible for…but how far to you extend that responsibility ? If this guy got so depressed he didn’t pay his taxes, would the company be facing federal tax evasion charges ?? If he killed somene else instead of himself, would the company be liable for murder ?? It just seems wrong.

  • September 17, 2007 at 1:19 am
    Mike says:
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    As both a claims person, and a person with a chronic painful condition (from an accident), I can see both sides of the argument but honestly, if he suffered depression after injurying his back in the scope of his employment, I do believe that he rightfully should be covered.
    I know that I’m going against the grain with my posting but it’s how I feel.
    Thanks!

  • September 17, 2007 at 1:21 am
    GB says:
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    Mike. I can see how a debilitating injury could lead to depression but wouldn’t the company have to deny therapy or not have provided couceling or something ? What could the company have done differently ?? Unless they were negligent in treating the depression I can’t see how it can be held against them ?

  • September 17, 2007 at 1:35 am
    clr says:
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    Aparently there have been other cases similiar to this for there to be a law… perhaps the companies need to learn how to recognize these suicidal people before they hire them… Or learn to help them through their injuries to get training for another job before they terminate them…

    Just a thought…. but if there is a law there is a problem & someone at one time addressed it in order for it to be a law!

  • September 17, 2007 at 2:12 am
    CJ says:
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    To respond to GB, I don’t believe negligence is relevant in Work Comp – I think it is what is called strict liability – if the injury is work-related, as defined by the law, Work Comp pays.
    However, if the employee can show gross negligence, they can usually sue for additional damages over and above the Work Comp benefits.

  • September 17, 2007 at 2:46 am
    GB says:
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    I guess what is most bothersome is that this company is going to get slammed with a big claim, and still not have a way to prevent it from recurring, unless they hire a company shrink to call everyone who’s out sick and ask if they are feeling ok, record the responses and keep them on file.

    What would happen if a non injurred employee committed suicide. If you went home and hung yourself because your work load was too much,your boss yelled at you, the snack machine was out of twinkies, etc would that be a workers comp claim for your widow/heirs ?

  • September 17, 2007 at 3:20 am
    RAL says:
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    The courts need to start considering the employers. Did the employer know that the employee was suicidal? It seems like the employer did what they could for the employee regarding his injury.

  • September 17, 2007 at 3:24 am
    Deen says:
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    Does it have anything to do with the fact that they fired him? Maybe if they didnt fire him the judge would have ruled in the companies favor?

  • September 17, 2007 at 3:33 am
    Cherie Thomas-Wood says:
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    What I understand he hurt his back at work, was supposed to go on light duty. The Company said they didn’t have any light duty available and fired him which led to his depression and suicide. Nowhere did anyone say he was depressive before being Fired( which was against Federal Law) and the tort showed cause. Get a grip people and understand Workman’s Comp is there for a reason…

  • September 17, 2007 at 3:35 am
    clr says:
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    No doubt that’s why they added the Employers Liability onto the policy too!

  • September 17, 2007 at 4:12 am
    Chuck says:
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    I have a liability background, although I do work in a multi-line office.

    Why wasn’t he company forced to re-train this gentleman for other suitable employment since they didn’t have a light-duty position available?

    Sounds like the company got what they deserved, unless there is more to this story than what is being provided…

  • September 18, 2007 at 7:06 am
    JGD says:
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    If the article has all the info, then it seems to me the ruling was correct. It says he hurt his back at work. For a short time he was unable to work at all, then he was allowed light duty. However,the company said no lt duty was available–which I doubt, but that’s what they said. I don’t know Mass law, but in NY, if WC says you are eligible for lt duty, they reduce your wage benefit whether or not you actually work lt duty. Had he not been injured, he wouldn’t need lt duty, so that is directly related to the injury. Then they fired him. The article says he was hurt 11/7 & terminated 12/4. I don’t know why his job wasn’t protected for 12 wks, but they don’t give any other reason for termination other than that he couldn’t work. In any case–it is “depressing” to be in pain & it is depressing to be told you can’t work and support your family in the way you are accustomed. Then, add on to that a possible reduction in benefits, and finally you get terminated–all that adds up to a real reason for depression. He wouldn’t even be eligible for unemployment if he was not able to look for a job due to his injury. No where does it say he was depressed or being treated for depression prior to the injury. I know these articles don’t have every detail, but if this was the order of events, it seems the depression started with the injury and the intervening events–the refusal of lt duty and termination–would not have occurred had he not been injured.

  • September 18, 2007 at 11:23 am
    Smitty says:
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    Not to offer light duty and then terminate an injured employee is not only poor risk management, it flies in the face of doing what’s right. The law states his dependants are entitled to benefits if the suicide is causally related to the injury. I can see no other reason why he would have killed himself except for the fact he was injured and subsequently fired. As a matter of fact, I would have also brought a wrongful termination claim against the company. This employer got what they deserved.

  • September 18, 2007 at 11:30 am
    chuck says:
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    Something tells me that this employer will not be found in a publication that lists the 100 best companies to work for….

  • September 18, 2007 at 11:38 am
    GB says:
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    But just because its casually related doesn’t mean it should cost the company, does it ? After thinking about this overnight; my problem with this is twofold. First, I don’t know how the company could have done differently or how to prevent the next back injury from leading to the same conclusion. Second I question how far down a chain of events the company is responsible for. If his injury leads to depression and the depression leads to weight gain, and the weight gain leads to heart trouble….would that be an actionable claim as well ? Where does it stop ?

    You know the expression “Two wrongs don’t make a right” ? This seems to be a case of that. The injury/termination was wrong, but it was wrong of this guy to kill himself. The company could not have forseen that, nor prevented it.

  • September 18, 2007 at 11:50 am
    Smitty says:
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    The company doesn’t have to have forseen or done anything to prevent the loss for them to be responsible. (Although they had to know firing the guy was not going to help the situation.) If depression linked to an injury causes weight gain, which leads to heart trouble, that could be compensable. Stranger things have happened. WC benefits are dictated by statute. WC is no-fault and is sole remedy for work-related injuries. There is no liability standard or negligence required. Where does it all stop? That depends on the law. Like it or not, the guy was injured on the job and is entitled to benefits. His employer did not do the right thing.

  • September 20, 2007 at 8:26 am
    lastbat says:
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    The company was entirely in their rights to terminate the employee. I’ve been in a couple of these conversations – it’s not fun. If there is no light duty and the employee can not return to their job at time of injury you can let them go. Workers’ Comp has vocational rehabilitation built in and they take over from that point. The ruling is bad – point blank.

  • September 20, 2007 at 2:51 am
    Mary B. says:
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    Can’t wait to read all the comments but I will state right now that this entire case and verdict is a bunch of crap. I hope this can be appealed.

  • September 21, 2007 at 9:59 am
    Smitty says:
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    The company had the legal right to fire the employee. However, that was not only bad risk management, it was the wrong thing to do. You can always create light duty! Not all states have vocational rehab. Does Massachusetts?

  • September 21, 2007 at 10:07 am
    GB says:
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    are there rules about what salary you have to give a guy who is on light duty ? do you have to keep his “full-duty” salary ?

    Just curious.

    Thanks

  • September 21, 2007 at 10:30 am
    Smitty says:
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    Yes, there are rules about light duty. Usually the carrier pays the difference between what the light duty job pays and their regular salary – up to the state minimum weekly amount.

  • September 24, 2007 at 8:48 am
    tess says:
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    If he wasn’t depressive prior to the work-related injury, then WC should kick in – it does for so many other work-related mental injuries, I don’t see how this should be any different.

  • September 24, 2007 at 8:52 am
    GB says:
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    this is different because its self inflicted. The work related injuries were the back problem and the depression. The suicide was self inflicted. Killing yourself is an obvious and undeniable sign of improper reasoning ( ie: crazy !). Here we have a company being held liable for the actions of a person with faulty reasoning.

  • September 24, 2007 at 10:52 am
    Karen says:
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    If you read the law as quoted by Betsy, it specifically states “if it be shown by the weight of the evidence that, DUE TO THE INJURY, the employee was of such unsoundness of mind as to make him irresponsible for his act of suicide.” Killing oneself because the vending machine was out of twinkies wouldn’t be workers’ compensation, because there was no injury invloved that impaired his judgment and then led to the suicide.

  • September 24, 2007 at 11:03 am
    GB says:
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    I know the twinkie example was extreme….but I was trying to point out that you shouldn’t make a company pay for what is essentially a random event. The guy was “unresponsible for his actions” so his actions were unpredictable. I still say that unless the company denied mental health benefits or with held care for the depression, this ruling is wrong.

  • September 24, 2007 at 2:00 am
    Saints Fan says:
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    Please, please remind me to never get Mary B to be my attorney, claims rep or whatever she is. This woman is pure D heartless.

  • September 24, 2007 at 2:06 am
    Mary B. says:
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    Thanks for the compliment Saints Fan. You should be more worried about me being a juror of yours….

  • September 24, 2007 at 2:19 am
    Chuck says:
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    It appears that this gentleman’s employment was terminated for no good reason, other than he had difficulty in doing the job he was hired to do (Granted we don’t know everything about his case, history, etc.). For most jurisdictions, I would imagine (hope) that the employer is required by law to find other employment for him via vocational training – that is one benefit of worker’s comp that we all should be entitled to. I would agree that the suicide is a bit of a stretch in terms of compensibility. However, I would have to side with the employee’ estate here, versus the employer.

    If they had provide this opportunity to him, there wouldn’t be a discussion about this case.

  • December 17, 2007 at 6:24 am
    Wel lnformed says:
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    Firstly, research the case, know the facts, know the timeline, know the circumstances.

    At that point you will have the information needed to make an educated opinion surrounding this case.

    FYI, the MSJC has upheld the verdict.

  • March 22, 2008 at 7:12 am
    Been there says:
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    I agree with you. Cause my hubby committed suicide in 2007 cause of depression from injuries and losing his job. He lost the use of his arms and was always in pain. During the 3 years of fighting and working with comp. He could not take it anymore and he killed himself. I think as his wife, me and his son (8 yearsold) should get whatever benifits was due to him. He gave his company 13 years they owe him or now me and my son!!!!

  • July 14, 2008 at 12:19 pm
    lorraine says:
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    my husband committed suicide in feb 2008 because of all the pain and suffering he had from a bad injury he got while working 5 years ago .been fighting all these years.finally got his money every month which couldnt compare to his normal salary. then in june 08 they got a insurance doctor to lie and say there was nothing wrong with him which made his depression worst they stopped his payments. so you tell me a hard working man his whole for his wife and 4 children treated like nothing would kill himself. its because of all the ruthless people out there that have no clue about anything. and who suffers now all of the loves ones that are left behind while workers comp destorys another family.

  • February 8, 2009 at 12:46 pm
    death can be beautiful says:
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    When a man feels cornered and has nothing to offer, there is little incentive to live. If there is no insurance, there would be less incentive for suicide. Rewarding suicides increase the risk of further suicides. Free retraining programs with welfare checks during training is money better spent than providing welfare checks.



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