Commercial traveler rule and neutral risk doctrine applied in case involving carbon dioxide exposure

This is a very significant case for workers’ compensation principles.

The applicant was on  a business trip. He rented a vehicle and put two boxes of frozen fish  on dry ice in in his trunk.

He was later found unconscious in his car and administered CPR. He died and was diagnosed with a catastrophic hypoxic event caused by carbon dioxide exposure. 

Defendant denied the claim and a  trial was held. Defendant indicated that the Qualified Medical Examiner only indicated that it was difficult to conclude that the exposure to carbon dioxide contributed to the injury. Therefore, the defendant indicated that this did not meet the medical probable standard for compensability.

The Workers’ Compensation Judge (WCJ) ruled the case arose out of and in the course of employment. The WCJ ruled that the carbon dioxide was a contributing cause. The defendant filed a petition for reconsideration.

The Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board (WCAB) ruled that all reasonable doubts as to injury are resolved in favor of the employee.  Even if the medical evidence is insufficient, the claim could be found compensable under the neutral risk doctrine. This is where the employee dies under unexplained circumstances at the workplace. The WCAB also indicated the commercial traveler rule would apply because the applicant was on a business trip.

Editor: Harvey Brown
Samuelsen, Gonzalez, Valenzuela & Brown
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Appellate Court finds death industrial related on circumstantial evidence by physician

This is a published decision of the appellate court.

This is a very significant case for workers’ compensation principles.

The applicant was working as a dishwasher at a restaurant. The decedent had to take out the trash to a dumpster. He took a trash can on a dolly over 300 feet to a dumpster. It was circumstantial evidence that he had to lift the trash can to put it on the dolly.

The decedent was found dead by the dumpster. He was found with coagulated blood and bloody foam on his face. The autopsy concluded that he died from a hemorrhage from a sequelae of tuberculosis.

The physician hired by the family found that the exertion of taking out the trash resulted in the hemorrhage resulting in the death.

The Workers’ Compensation Judge (WCJ) found the physician reached a reasonable conclusion and found the death industrial related. The Workers’ Compensation Board (WCAB) reversed the WCJ finding the physicians report was based on speculation and the conclusion was not based on reasonable medical probability.

The court of appeal reviewed cases on circumstantial evidence. An inference may logically and reasonably be drawn. Here the physician drew an inference based on facts that could reasonably be drawn. The court indicated that a material fact to be proved may be logically and reasonably be inferred from circumstantial evidence. Therefore, the death was industrial.

Death Benefits Awarded to employee’s widow for a worker who died in the restroom with heart disease

This is a Court of Appeal non published case

This is a very significant case for workers’ compensation principles.

The decedent was a tractor driver. He drove a tractor 10 hours a day and up to as many as 12 hours in one day. On one day he was washing mud off a tractor and disc when he reported having chest pain.

The foreman was going to drive the decedent to the doctor, but the decedent wanted to use the restroom first. He went in to a portable toilet and did not come out. The door was forced open and he was found dead.

The coroner indicated he died of natural causes. The widow filed a death claim. Two doctors reported that the heart attack resulted from the physical strain he exerted while using the restroom.

At trial the Workers’ Compensation Judge (WCJ) found the death compensable on the basis that his restroom activities arose out of and during the scope of his employment. A normal bodily movement was considered incidental to the employment.

Defendant filed for reconsideration. The Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board denied the petition and defendant filed a writ.

The appellate court upheld the decision indicating that when an employee suffers a heart attack brought on by strain it is compensable even though an idiopathic condition previously existed. The strain need not be unusual. The widow received a death benefit of $320,000.

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