Thursday, July 25, 2013

Fatal Claim from Prescription Medication Toxicity

A Fatal Claim petition may be filed where the death of an employee occurs within 300 weeks of the original work injury.

Section 301 (c)(1) of the Pennsylvania Workers' Compensation Act defines the term "injury" to include "death resulting from such injury and it's resultant effects, and occurring within three hundred weeks after injury". 

Whitesell v. WCAB (Staples Inc.), No. 205 C.D. 2013, a reported panel decision of the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania, authored by President Judge Pellegrini on July 10, 2013, addressed this issue.

Factual & Procedural Background 

Employee suffered a work injury in October 2003, described as a "lumbar strain/sprain". In 2006, after two spinal surgeries, the parties stipulated to an amended description of injury, " lumbar strain/sprain and lumbar disc disruption L4-5, resulting in total disc arthroplasty at L4-L5 level". The WCJ issued a decision, consistent with this stipulation.

On June 8, 2011 Claimant widower filed a Fatal Claim petition alleging employee died on June 13, 2013 as a result of mixed drug toxicity from medications prescribed by her physician.

Employer answer to the claim denied those averrments and asserted the death did not occur within 300 weeks as required by the Act. 

WCJ denied the claim, concluding the claim is barred under Section 301 (c)(1) as her death did not occur within 300 weeks of her injury, as required.

WCAB Appeal

Claimant argued the claim petition was timely, as it was filed within 300 weeks of the additional "injury" that was accepted at the time of the 2006 WCJ decision. Claimant argued this was an "insidious" injury and argued for application of an occupational disease-type standard.
These arguments were rejected by the WCAB. 

Commonwealth Court Appeal

Claimant's arguments were repeated and rejected.
1. Appellate decisions have consistently held that the 300 week rule applies without exception. To be considered compensible, the workers' death must occur within 300 weeks of the original work injury. Citing: Shoemaker 1992;  Antonucci 1991;  Formicola 1986.

2. The argument that an occupational disease-type rule would start the 300 week time duration at the time of the "new injury" was correctly rejected. Note: In 2006 there was a "new" injury description, there was NOT a new injury. ( my reasoning, not CWCt.).

Commonwealth Court specifically states that an insidious nature of the injury/disease process would not alter the application of the 300 week rule. 

In Shoemaker, that worker was injured in a 1980 work related truck accident. In treatment for his injuries, he received blood transfusions and in 1987 he was subsequently diagnosed with AIDS, which proved to be a fatal condition, later that year. The argument that the AIDS condition was a "new" injury for the purpose of the 300 week rule was rejected. No legal authority could be found to support the argument to commence the timeframe at the later date.

In Whitesell, the diagnosis of mixed drug toxicity is no more insidious than contracting AIDS through blood transfusion. The Claimant arguments were properly rejected.

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