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The Supreme Court of New Hampshire on Tuesday affirmed an earlier workers compensation board decision that denied death benefits to an injured worker who died of a heroin and oxycodone overdose.
The worker, who had suffered an injury to his ankle in 2012 and was prescribed opioids to manage pain, attempted suicide in 2015 following efforts of his doctor to wean him, according to documents in Case No. 2018-0310, filed in a courthouse in Concord. The workers compensation insurer Liberty Mutual Insurance Co. put him in in-patient rehabilitation that same year and he was off the medication for several months before a doctor again prescribed oxycodone for pain, documents state.
In 2016, his wife found him dead on the floor of their home, surrounded by drug paraphernalia that included unmarked pill bottles, a bowl of crushed pills, and an empty bottle of oxycodone, according to documents.
A medical examiner attributed the death to "acute intoxication by the combined effects of heroin and oxycodone" as a result of "acute substance abuse," documents state.
His widow subsequently filed for workers compensation survivor benefits, which Liberty Mutual denied. She then requested a hearing with the New Hampshire Compensation Appeals Board, which ultimately denied benefits on the basis of state law, writing that found that "the consumption of the amount of oxycodone at the time of death was inconsistent with (his) prescribed dosage" and that "heroin was not part of (his) prescribed medical treatment."
The board wrote that "even if (it were) to accept that (the worker) was addicted to legally prescribed oxycodone as a direct result of the work injury” his "intentional ingestion of significant overdoses of both heroin and oxycodone simultaneously constitute serious and willful misconduct,” documents state.
The board also found that the intentional "actions and misconduct” of the worker to be “an independent, intervening cause breaking the chain of causation between his (compensable) work injury and his death," concluding that the death "was not causally related to (his) work injury,” documents state.
For the same reasons, the state’s highest court ruled the death not compensable, writing: “we conclude that the (board’s) decision to deny workers' compensation benefits — on the ground that (his) intentional conduct was an independent intervening cause that broke the causal chain between his initial compensable work-related injury and his death — is amply supported by competent evidence in the record” and that the widow, or estate, had not met its burden of proof on causation.
Liberty Mutual and attorneys involved could not immediately be reached for comment.
Medications used to reverse opioid overdoses or limit the “high” created by opioids can help prevent narcotic-related deaths, but workers compensation experts say injured workers who obtain those medications should receive help to wean them off opioids.