Lack of causation between operator's work, death nix widow's benefits
Case name: Read v. Hill Services, Inc. et al., No. W2012-00224-SC-WCM-WC (Tenn. 01/10/13, unpublished).
Ruling: In an unpublished decision, the Tennessee Supreme Court held that an operator's widow was not entitled to death benefits.
What it means: In Tennessee, a medical expert's opinion can be discredited if it conflicts with autopsy findings and a worker's other medical records.
A pump truck operator was assigned to empty the grease trap at a hotel. He began setting up his equipment to empty the trap. A short time later, he was found unconscious in a hallway between the kitchen and the loading dock where his truck was parked. An ambulance brought him to the hospital where he was pronounced dead. The operator's widow said that he did not express signs of distress or discomfort earlier that day. The widow sought death benefits. An autopsy listed the cause of death as an enlarged heart, with morbid obesity as a contributing condition. The Tennessee Supreme Court held that the widow was not entitled to benefits.
Three expert medical opinions differed concerning the relationship between the operator's work activities and his death. One doctor opined that the physical exertion of moving and connecting hose sections caused the operator to have pulmonary edema and heart failure. A second doctor opined that he had an injured and weakened heart and likely died of an irregular heartbeat. A third doctor opined that the operator's work activities "more likely than not" did not cause his death, but a combination of sleep apnea and lung disease did.
The court gave deference to the trial court's assessment that the third doctor was the most reliable expert. The trial court found that the first doctor's opinion was inconsistent with the autopsy report. The lack of evidence that the operator had fluid in his lungs or exhibited signs of discomfort was inconsistent with the second doctor's opinion. The court concluded that the widow did not establish causation.
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April 18, 2013
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