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Spouse denied survivor benefits after injured employee's overdose of pain medication

Spouse denied survivor benefits after injured employee's overdose of pain medication

The spouse of a corrections officer who died from an overdose of oxycodone prescribed for a work injury, in combination with another drug, is not entitled to survivor benefits, Connecticut's Supreme Court ruled.

Anthony S. Sapko, a state employee, died in August 2006, according to the opinion in Christine L. Sapko vs. State of Connecticut. He died of multiple drug toxicity “due to the interaction of excessive doses of oxycodone and Seroquel.”

A medical examiner report stated the death was an accident, not a suicide, according to the opinion.

While Mr. Sapko was prescribed the oxycodone—an opioid narcotic pain reliever—for compensable work injuries, the Seroquel was prescribed for unrelated “major depression.”

Both drugs can be taken safely in proper dosages, but at the time of Mr. Sapko's death, he had a level of oxycodone 20 times higher than the therapeutic dosage. The level of Seroquel exceeded five times the therapeutic dosage.

A workers comp commissioner originally denied Ms. Sapko's claim for survivor benefits, determining Mr. Sapko's ingestion of the drugs amounted to a superseding cause of his death and, therefore, his work injuries were not the proximate cause of his demise.

The commissioner's finding was upheld by a workers comp review board and an appellate court.

On appeal, Connecticut's high court agreed, concluding that “the commissioner's finding that superseding events broke the chain of proximate causation between the decedent's compensable work injuries and his death constituted a proper application” the law.

The Supreme Court ruled to uphold the Appellate court's finding, but the opinion will not be officially published until June 12.

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