Larson’s Spotlight on Recent Cases: Unexplained Death Presumption Relates to Precipitating Cause of Death

Larson's Spotlight on Unexplained Death, Borrowed Employee, Personal Mission, and Unscheduled Benefits. Larson's surveys the latest case developments that you need to know about. Thomas A. Robinson, the staff writer for Larson's Workers' Compensation Law, has compiled the list below.

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GA: "Unexplained" Death Presumption Relates to Precipitating Rather Than Immediate Cause of Death

A Georgia appellate court recently vacated a decision by a state superior court that held that a surviving spouse of a school principal was entitled to the unexplained death presumption in her claim for workers' compensation benefits.  The appellate court agreed with the superior court that both the ALJ and the Board had misapplied the law related to the presumption-the ALJ ruled (and the Board affirmed) that there could be no presumption since the principal died at the hospital several days after being admitted; the immediate cause of death was, therefore, quite known.  The Appeals Court indicated, however, that the superior court had erred as well. First, in finding that the incident that resulted in the principal's death occurred while he was performing his job-the ALJ had made no such findings-the superior court improperly substituted itself as a fact-finding body.  Second, the application of the unexplained-death presumption required that the precipitating cause of death, not the immediate cause of death, be unexplained.  Again, neither the ALJ nor the superior court made a specific finding as to the precipitating cause of the principal's death, and neither determined whether that precipitating cause of death was ultimately unexplained.  Remand was required to determine those issues.

See Wilkinson County Bd. of Educ. v. Johnson, 2012 Ga. App. LEXIS 767 (Sept. 6, 2012).

See generally Larson's Workers' Compensation Law, § 7.04.

US: Truck Driver of Firm Holding Transportation Contract With U.S. Postal Service is Not "Borrowed" Employee of the Federal Government

 The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals recently held that a driver employed by a private trucking company with a Highway Contract Route or HCR contract with the U.S. Postal Service was not a borrowed employee of the Postal Service for purposes of the FTCA and the Illinois Workers Compensation Act (IWCA).  Accordingly, a widow's civil action filed against the United States under the FTCA alleging her husband died as a result of being hit by a forklift operated by a U.S. Postal Service employee was not barred by the exclusive remedy provisions of the IWCA.  The District Court's Order allowing summary judgment was erroneous.  The Seventh Circuit said the private trucking company did not merely lend employees to the Postal Service but provided mail transportation and delivery services. The company trained, equipped, paid, and supervised its own employees using its own equipment to provide these services. Therefore, the husband was not a borrowed employee whom the Postal Service borrowed from the company.

See Couch v. United States, 2012 U.S. App. LEXIS 18643 (7th Cir., Sept. 5, 2012).

See generally Larson's Workers' Compensation Law, § 111.03.

OH: Injury Sustained in Slip and Fall in Hotel Bathroom Was Not Compensable

An Ohio appellate court recently reversed a trial court's decision that had awarded compensable to an employee who sustained injuries when he slipped and fell on the tile floor of a hotel's bathroom.  The employee, a "car hauler," was responsible for loading and delivering new cars to dealerships across the country. The appellate court held that the employee's injury did not arise out of his employment as a matter of law. The court indicated the employee slipped and fell while he was off-duty away from his place of employment and while he was engaged in a highly personal act, not incidental to his employment, at a location over which the employer had no control. The act of using the rest room in the middle of the night was a personal mission disconnected with the employment.

See Woodard v. Cassens Transp. Co., 2012 Ohio 4015, 2012 Ohio App. LEXIS 3531 (Sept. 4, 2012).

See generally Larson's Workers' Compensation Law, § 25.02.

AZ: Employee Who Sustains Two Injuries to Same Member in Same Accident is Not Entitled to Unscheduled Benefits

An Arizona appellate court refused to abrogate an earlier decision, Hoosava v. Industrial Comm'n, 1 Ariz. App. 6, 398 P.2d 683 (1965), and held that where an employee sustained to injuries to the right lower extremity in the same accident, the injury should be considered a scheduled impairment (A.R.S. § 23-1044(B) and not an unscheduled injury under § 23-1044(C).  The employee injured his right knee and right ankle and contended that public policy dictated that he receive unscheduled benefits.  The court distinguished the state supreme court's decision in Rodgers v. Industrial Comm'n, 109 Ariz. 216, 508 P.2d 46 (1973), noting that in Rodgers, the employee suffered two industrial injuries to his right hand in two separate accidents.  The high court said the second could be treated as an unscheduled injury.  In the instant case, however, both injuries occurred as a result of the same accident.

See Escobar v. Industrial Comm'n, 2012 Ariz. App. LEXIS 139 (Aug. 31, 2012).

See generally Larson's Workers' Compensation Law, § 87.03.

Source: Larson's Workers' Compensation Law, the nation's leading authority on workers' compensation law.

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