A very nice guy called me the other day with a sad situation. His cousin had been injured on the job and was receiving workers’ compensation benefits for a back and neck injury. As you might expect, part of his treatment not only included physical therapy, but also pain medication. Prior to the work injury his cousin never took prescription drugs, but did drink regularly and smoke marijuana occasionally.
Long story short is that he died of an opioid related drug overdose. They were told by a lawyer that they didn’t have a case because the death was drug related. As a famous football commentator says, “Not so fast my friends.”
If he had overdosed on heroin or fentanyl that he had bought on the street, it would be hard (although not impossible) to argue that his death was work related. That type of death would indicate he likely died from simple recreational drug use.
In this case it seems he died due to taking drugs that were legally prescribed for him due to a work related back and neck injury. He had severe shooting pains down his arms and legs which are big signs of a herniated disc. The insurance company was balking at paying for a MRI so the caller believes his cousin increased his drug usage and that led to the fatal overdose.
Since he was taking the medication for the work injury, it’s part of the work comp case. It’s no different than if you were to have back surgery and die on the operating table. If your medical treatment leads to a further injury then that becomes part of your case. He leaves behind a wife and child who are entitled to compensation for burial expenses and up to $500,000.00 for the death.
I believe that would be the right result even if he didn’t take the medication as prescribed. He did so because his treatment was getting delayed and he was in severe pain. It’s reasonable and foreseeable that something like that would happen. Quite honestly I think a good argument could be made that even if he was taking heroin for his pain and died it would be a part of the work comp case.
This is where having a trial attorney really makes a difference. The lawyers we work with on cases regularly try cases and aren’t afraid of a challenge. This case isn’t a slam dunk, but it’s one that should result in benefits being paid to his survivors. It’s not much different than the cases where an insurance company has been ordered to pay for drug counseling due to addiction caused by drugs from the work accident.