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Death benefits denied in collapse ‘not causally related’

Posted On: Jul. 23, 2021 1:56 PM CST

death benefits

An appeals court in New York on Thursday denied death benefits to the family of a United Parcel Service worker with pre-existing coronary artery disease that led to a heart attack and bypass surgery in 2002, who reinjured her chest while lifting a package at work in 2006, and who in 2014 collapsed at home following a suspected overdose of narcotics.

A state Workers’ Compensation Law Judge disallowed the surviving husband’s claim for death benefits, finding that her death was “not causally related to her employment.” The Workers’ Compensation Board affirmed, according to documents in 2021 NY Slip Op 04519, filed in the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of New York, Third Department in Albany.

Following her work injury, the UPS worker underwent “a string of surgeries to address that injury and problems involving her shoulder, knee and back that related back to it in varying ways, developed consequential depression, and was eventually classified with a permanent partial disability,” according to documents.

According to Thursday’s ruling affirming the denial of death benefits, records “indicated that decedent died after a night of heavy drinking and that a narcotics overdose was suspected, but no autopsy was performed and her death certificate did not list a cause of death” and that her husband “instead relied upon the report of a physician who, after reviewing decedent’s medical records and speaking to claimant about decedent’s lifestyle, opined that decedent’s compensable injuries had led to pain and ‘significant emotional trauma’ that, in turn, caused substance abuse issues that contributed to her death.”

The ruling highlighted that the state board rejected that opinion as “unsupported and speculative” but noted that the physician had not treated the worker yet testified that “although decedent’s death might have been connected to substance abuse issues arising out of her compensable injuries, it could have also been ‘solely related to (her) underlying coronary artery disease’ and that the medical evidence simply did not permit a finding one way or the other.”