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The California Supreme Court is set to consider whether the death of an injured worker from a prescription drug overdose was compensable under the state's workers compensation law.
The high court agreed Wednesday to hear arguments in South Coast Framing Inc. v. Workers Compensation Appeals Board, according to the case docket posted online. The California 4th District Court of Appeal ruled in December that the death of Brandon Clark, a South Coast employee, was noncompensable.
Mr. Clark suffered back, head, neck and chest injuries when he fell off a roof while working for South Coast in 2008, records show. His workers comp doctor prescribed an antidepressant, Vicodin and Neurontin, a drug used to treat neuropathic pain.
Mr. Clark also was prescribed Xanax and Ambien by his personal physician in January 2009 for anxiety and sleep problems, records show. He died the following July from the combined effects of the antidepressant, Neurontin, Xanax, Ambien and associated early pneumonia.
Mr. Clark's wife and children filed for workers comp death benefits, contending that his death was a result of his work injury and related medications, records show. A California workers comp judge awarded benefits, finding that Mr. Clark's workers comp medications contributed to his death.
South Coast, which was insured by Omaha, Neb.-based Redwood Fire & Casualty Co., appealed, records show. They argued in filings that Mr. Clark's workers comp prescriptions did not “materially contribute” to his death, based on a doctor's testimony that he couldn't precisely determine how much Mr. Clark's industrial prescriptions were responsible for his overdose
A three-judge panel of the California appeals court unanimously overturned the workers comp judge's decision in December, finding that medical testimony in Mr. Clark's case did not adequately establish that his death was caused by his comp prescriptions.