Lack of cold hard facts leads to denial of benefits for widow
Dinuzzo v. Dan Perkins Chevrolet GEO, Inc., et al., No. SC 17869 (Conn. 11/10/09).
The Connecticut Supreme Court upheld the denial of benefits to a decedent's widow, finding that there was not enough evidence to establish his death was causally related to a compensable work injury.
What it means:
In Connecticut, expert opinions on the cause of death must be based on reasonable probabilities rather than mere speculation or conjecture.
Summary: A worker sustained a compensable injury to his back and experienced continuous pain. He also had a chronic hepatitis C infection, diabetes, hypertension, and high cholesterol. He passed away at home. No autopsy was performed. The worker's physician of 20 years testified that the worker died of a heart attack, but conceded that without an autopsy, there was no way of knowing the exact cause of death. In Connecticut, when it is unclear whether an employee's death is related to a compensable injury, it is necessary to rely on expert medical opinion. However, the Supreme Court noted there was simply no evidence linking the worker's death to a heart attack. It held that because the decedent was never diagnosed with heart disease which his doctor claimed was the cause of death, no one witnessed the worker's death, and no autopsy was performed, there were insufficient facts to support a causal connection based solely on the expert's opinion. The court indicated that the doctor's speculation was not enough to establish a cause of death. It affirmed the denial of benefits.
The court noted that the widow's claim was predicated on a number of unsupported inferences. The widow argued the worker's death was causally related to the work injury because the injury severely limited his ability to exercise, which in turn caused him to suffer a fatal heart attack. She noted that the worker's obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure contributed to his inability to exercise. The court rejected her assertion that the decedent's risk factors for heart disease were sufficient to establish, to a degree of medical certainty, that the worker had died of a heart attack.
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January 11, 2010
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