North Carolina workplace injury led to methadone-related death

Workers’ compensation claims have nothing to do with fault. Rather, any injury that takes place within the scope of employment may qualify the employee to submit a claim for medical benefits. But, what happens when the injury is worsened, or the worker dies, in the course of treatment for the workplace injury?

According to a new decision by the North Carolina Court of Appeals, a death is compensable by workers’ compensation death benefits when someone dies due to treatment prescribed for a workplace injury.

The court ruled last week that the widow of a US Airways worker should be granted workers’ compensation benefits in the aftermath of her husband’s death. He died in 2008 of methadone toxicity, after being prescribed the drug as pain medication for a back injury incurred on the job eight years earlier.

The decision was unanimous and the appellate court said the man’s death was directly related to the back injury he incurred when lifting luggage for US Airways. Four years after the injury, the man was prescribed methadone for his pain. The methadone reportedly built up to toxic levels in his system over time, causing his death.

US Airways had argued in its appeal that the man’s death was actually caused by a liver disease – which was not work-related – that hindered his ability to metabolize methadone.

However, the court said in its decision that because there was a direct link between his injury and the prescription that led to his death, his death is compensable.

The defense’s argument was overruled and the widow was granted death benefits of $550 a week.

Source: Business Insurance, “Workers comp benefits OK’d for opioid treatment-related death,” Sheena Harrison, Dec. 23, 2011

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