The estate of an employee who killed himself is not entitled to workers’ compensation through the insurer, according to a recent article in the US-based Insurance Journal.

Journalist Elizabeth Blosfield reported that the New Hampshire Supreme Court had affirmed a decision by the New Hampshire Appeals Board (CAB) where the board denied the estate’s request. The petition was made by the employee’s widow—Linda Quinn, whose husband William Quinn died because of “acute intoxication by the combined effects of heroin and oxycodone”.

Mrs Quinn had appealed the CAB’s initial decision where they denied the estate’s request for the Disability Rights Center of New Hampshire and its insurer, Liberty Mutual Insurance Company pay workers’ comp benefits.

Work-related accident

In 2012, Mr Quinn was involved in a work-related accident. He fractured his ankle and suffered for chronic pain as a result of the surgeries he underwent. He was later diagnosed with complex regional pain syndrome, and he was paid compensation benefits through Liberty Mutual for his injury and the treatment for it.

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Mr Quinn’s body was discovered by his wife in January 2016. A bowl of crushed pills, a straw, a half-full bottle of wine, a small black case with another straw, unlabelled medicine bottles and one containing oxycodone were discovered nearby. The oxycodone bottle had about 70 pills missing according to court documents.

The medical examiner concluded Mr Quinn’s death happened because of “acute substance abuse”, and that he had taken in enough heroin and oxycodone in sufficient amounts for each to have killed him by themselves.

Death caused by intoxication

Mr Quinn’s estate filed the claim for compensation; however, Liberty Mutual denied the claim. The estate then asked for a hearing at the New Hampshire Department of Labor. They too denied the claim, which was then appealed to the CAB in 2018. The CAB concluded that an employer could not be liable for any injury which was caused in part or whole by intoxication. It found that the amount of oxycodone Mr Quinn ingested was “inconsistent” with his prescribed dose and that heroin was illegal under federal and New Hampshire law, and also not part of his prescribed pain treatment.

The man’s intentional ingestion of such large overdoses constituted “serious and wilful misconduct” unrelated to his work injury, and denied the claim which then went to appeal.

Mr Quinn’s estate argued his death resulted from a compensable work-related injury, and that the work-related injury led to addiction or substance abuse, and ultimately to his death.

The Disability Rights Center (DRC) argued Mr Quinn’s intentional ingestion had not been prescribed and this independent intervening factor “broke the connection between his injury and his death”. In addition, a previous case stated that post-injury conduct by an employee can result in the restriction or termination of benefit payments.

The Supreme Court agreed with the DRC’s argument and its denial of workers’ compensation benefits.

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