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Court remands board decision denying spousal support to widow

death benefits

A workers compensation board must reevaluate whether external forces triggered a fatal heart attack immediately following an engineer’s work trip, therefore making the incident compensable.

In Larson v. Excel Industries Inc., the Kansas Court of Appeals on Friday ruled that the Kansas Workers Compensation Appeals Board erred in declaring as moot a widow’s argument that travel delays and a lack of medication caused his heart attack and that she should be entitled to benefits.

Thomas Larson worked as a senior quality engineer for Excel Industries Inc., a position that required occasional work travel. In November 2016, Mr. Larson began having trouble breathing while in baggage claim after flying home from his work trip; he suffered a heart attack and died at the hospital the next day.

His widow, Pamela Larson, sought surviving spouse benefits. She argued that her husband’s heart attack was compensable and caused by exertion beyond what was typically required by his job as well as external factors — including a series of weather-related flight delays that added stress and resulted in Mr. Larson being short of his heart medication. The board held that she was not entitled to benefits due to the “heart amendment” to the Kansas Workers Compensation Act since she failed to show the heart attack was caused by exertion beyond the norm, and declined to rule on her claim that his heart attack had been caused by external factors. She appealed.

The appellate court dismissed most of Ms. Larson’s claims, but ruled that the board erred in holding that her external forces claim was moot. The court held that the board had a duty to evaluate the theory and erred in failing to separate the theories of unusual exertion and external forces in its decision.

The court noted that the fact that Ms. Thomas failed to prove the unusual exertion theory did “not necessarily preclude a claim that an external force triggered” the heart attack and remanded the case back to the board.





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