Case name: Shaw v. US Airways, Inc., No. COA11-284 (N.C. Ct. App. 12/20/11).
Ruling: The North Carolina Court of Appeals held that a widow was entitled to death benefits for a worker's death of methadone toxicity.
What it means:
In North Carolina, death benefits are available when the toxic buildup of medication prescribed to manage an injured worker's pain resulting from a compensable injury contributed to his death.
Summary: A fleet services worker for an airline injured his back while lifting a piece of luggage from a baggage carousel. The airline paid him temporary total disability compensation. After his injury, he experienced back pain, and his treating physician prescribed methadone. He took the methadone in increasing dosages for four years until he died. An autopsy revealed that the cause of death was methadone toxicity. His widow sought death benefits. The North Carolina Court of Appeals held that the widow was entitled to death benefits.
The airline argued that the claim for death benefits was barred by the statute of limitations. The court disagreed, stating that no final determination of disability was made before the death benefits claim was filed.
The airline also asserted that the worker's death did not proximately result from his compensable injury. The court pointed out that the widow testified that the worker was careful not to take more methadone than prescribed. The treating physician said that the worker never had problems with abusing or overusing his medication.
Also, the airline's argument that the worker's death was solely the result of liver disease failed. The court explained that the toxic buildup on the prescribed methadone contributed to his death. The medical examiner explained that the levels of methadone found in the worker were consistent with his prescribed dosage and the duration of his methadone use. This supported a finding of a direct relationship between the worker's compensable injury and his death.
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February 9, 2012
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