Tennessee Supreme Court Reviews Wrongful Death Benefits Awarded to Severely Injured Carpenter’s Family

If you’ve been severely injured in a Tennessee car accident, you may be able to access workers’ compensation funds if the car accident occurred while performing work for an employer. Workers’ compensation provides payments to an injured employee to cover lost wages and medical expenses. If the employee suffers a partial or total disability, he or she may receive a lump sum or series of payments to cover the wages that cannot be earned as a result of the disability. If the employee dies as a result of the workplace injury, the estate or family may recover the designated benefits.Workers’ compensation was designed to provide employees with quicker access to funds while shielding an employer from liability. However, this does not prevent an injured party from pursuing damages in a negligence action against other parties who share responsibility for the injuries.

The Tennessee Supreme Court recently issued an opinion stemming from a workplace car accident that caused a carpenter to suffer numerous serious injuries. The accident fractured the C3 and C4 vertebrae in his neck and herniated discs in his lower back. The injured carpenter underwent surgery to alleviate his neck pain, but he still experienced back pain whenever he bent forward or backward. After reviewing the carpenter’s complaints, the surgeon recommended additional surgery to help heal the residual pain. The insurance company denied the coverage for surgery, due to the peer review performed by three other physicians, who did not think surgery was necessary. The additional request for epidural steroid injections was also denied. To manage the pain, the carpenter took opiates. When the pain became too great, he took a greater amount of medicine than prescribed and consumed alcohol. The injured carpenter admitted this to a pain management specialist, and he agreed to take his medication as directed and call before adjusting his dose.

The injured carpenter’s family testified that he suffered depression after the accident, due to the pain and the inability to work and provide for his family. The family related that he had been a happy, outgoing father before the accident. The carpenter’s wife advised that he increased his drinking, despite admonitions to avoid drinking alcohol while taking medication. The injured carpenter’s wife described finding him unresponsive after he died from a combination of oxycodone toxicity, alcohol use, tobacco use, and hypertension. The injured worker’s family filed a claim for workers’ compensation death benefits, alleging the carpenter died as a result of the drugs and alcohol the carpenter used to compensate for the pain stemming from his workplace injury. The trial court agreed with the carpenter’s wife and awarded the requested benefits. The employer appealed.

The Supreme Court narrowed the question down to whether or not the injured worker’s behavior broke the causal link between his death and the workplace injury. The court looked at a prior Supreme Court ruling in which they concluded an injured worker was ineligible for benefits once he quit taking his medication as prescribed for a workplace injury. The court distinguished this from a case cited by the widow, which overturned a summary judgment. The court said that while the facts are similar, the case at hand was one that went through a trial determined on its merits. The court also differentiated the case at hand from another prior ruling that required the intervening action to be willful or deliberate conduct. The Supreme Court concluded the carpenter’s overdose, while not intentional, broke the causal link between his death and the workplace accident. The lower court’s ruling was overturned and the case remanded for a new trial.

If you or a family member has been seriously injured in a car accident, contact Tennessee car accident attorney Eric Beasley to see which types of damages or benefits you may be eligible to receive. To learn more information or set up an initial consultation, contact the Office of Eric Beasley today at 615-859-2223.

Related Blog Posts:

Tennessee Court Rules that Affidavit is Not Conclusive Evidence of Lack of Material Fact, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, April 25, 2017.

Managing Parallel Criminal and Civil Proceedings in Personal Injury Claims, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, February 24, 2016

Tennessee Accident Tips, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, March 16, 2016