The basic idea of a state workers' compensation system like New York's is that work injuries and occupational diseases are covered by workers' compensation benefits paid by employers or their insurance companies. Claims are paid regardless of whose fault the accidents or diseases result from, in exchange for elimination (with a few rare exceptions) of workers' rights to recover through lawsuits.
An important part of the workers' compensation system is the death benefit payable to certain eligible survivors when an employee dies from a work-related injury, accident or disease.
Consider this situation: say an employee sustains a horrific injury at work or contracts a devastating occupational illness that causes unbearable pain. In a workers' comp claim, prescribed pain medication would be logically covered in this situation since it is being used to treat the result of a work-related medical condition.
Taken a step further, what if this worker becomes addicted to the pain-killing medication, a problem that is not uncommon, and ultimately dies from an overdose of that drug? Would the eligible survivors be entitled to workers' compensation death benefits?
Logically, there is a connection between the injury and the death - but with a few more links in the causal chain than usual. A Pennsylvania state court recently ruled that death benefits are appropriate in this scenario.
The case before the court reportedly examined the situation of a landscaping worker who hurt his back on the job and was found dead five years later from an overdose of his pain medication prescribed to treat the pain still present from the injury. The court found the employer responsible to pay death benefits in this situation.
Though the law is still evolving with respect to workers' compensation and painkiller overdose, there may be hope for surviving family members in situations such as this. If you have questions about this issue, please contact an experienced workers' compensation attorney.