You Be the Judge

Is Manager’s Widow Entitled to Death Benefits?

By: | February 21, 2014 • 3 min read

Christina Lumbreras is a Legal Editor for Workers' Compensation Report, a publication of our parent company, LRP Publications. She can be reached at [email protected]

A district sales manager traveled to sell seed. He had congestive heart failure and was treated with high blood pressure pills and a diuretic. While traveling his route, his truck crossed the center line, collided with the side of an oncoming semi, and struck another semi head on. The manager was pronounced dead at the scene. The first semi driver noted that the manager was slumped over prior to impact and did not react.

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The doctor who pronounced the manager dead listed the immediate cause of death as motor vehicle accident due to coronary artery disease. The pathologist who performed the autopsy listed the cause of death as the loss of vehicular control due to possible cardiac arrhythmia.

He further said that the cause of the manager’s death was blunt force trauma as a result of the collisions. The pathologist could not say whether the manager died before the impact. Other doctors had conflicting opinions about whether the manager’s death was caused by his cardiac condition or the blunt trauma of the collision.

The manager’s widow sought workers’ compensation death benefits.

The administrative law judge found that the manager sustained a personal injury by accident arising out of and in the course of employment that resulted in his death. The ALJ awarded benefits to the widow. The Workers’ Compensation Board affirmed the ALJ’s decision.

The employer appealed.

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The parties did not dispute that the manager’s death occurred in the course of his employment. The court concluded that the manager’s death arose out of his employment. The pathologist said that blunt force trauma was the cause of the manager’s death.

The evidence supported a loss of consciousness before the accident and not a heart attack resulting in sudden death. There was also substantial evidence that the manager did not experience any heart event immediately prior to the accident. The pathologist said he found no evidence of a sudden interruption of blood flow or blood clots. The toxicology report showed that the manager had medication in his system that could have made him sleepy.

The court noted that only one doctor said it was most likely that the manager had a sudden cardiac death.

A is incorrect. The court found substantial evidence supporting the ALJ’s decision that the manager’s death was the result of a work-related motor vehicle accident involving significant blunt force trauma.

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C is incorrect. The court said that the widow did not have to definitively prove that the manager was alive at the time of the accident. She had to show it was more probable than not that the accident caused his death.

How the court ruled: B. In an unpublished decision, the Kansas Court of Appeals held that the manager’s wife was entitled to death benefits. Grove v. AgReliant Genetics, LLC, No. 109,094 (Kan. Ct. App. 11/22/13, unpublished).

Editor’s note: This feature is not intended as instructional material or to replace legal advice.

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The R&I Editorial Team can be reached at [email protected]