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Worker's suicide fails chain of causation test

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A widow's request for workers' compensation benefits of her deceased husband can't be granted because his death at work was caused by a knowingly self-inflicted injury, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled today. The woman failed to satisfy the chain of causation test in trying to prove an initial work-related event led to her husband's death.

In Boyd Vandenberg, deceased v. Snedegar Construction, Inc., No. 93A02-0904-EX-312, Jane Vandenberg appealed the order of the Full Worker's Compensation Board affirming the single hearing officer's decision to deny her claim for Boyd Vandenberg's worker's compensation benefits.

Boyd had been at a company party in December, had a few alcoholic drinks, and then got behind the wheel of a company car. He hit another company vehicle, got out, and shot himself in the head in front of Snedegar Construction President Gary Snedegar. Boyd had previously contemplated suicide, suffered from depression, and was a perfectionist.

The single hearing member ruled the evidence showed Boyd knowingly inflicted his injury and his suicide doesn't fall under the narrow exception created by the Court of Appeals to the general bar of compensation when death is caused by a self-inflicted injury.

On review, the appellate court noted Indiana courts have had few opportunities to address whether workers' compensation benefits are barred when the employee commits suicide. It found Indiana State Police v. Wiessing, 836 N.E.2d 1038, to be instructive. Wiessing was a police officer who accidentally killed a motorist during a routine traffic stop. He suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result and killed himself six years later. The full board granted his descendants an application for an adjustment of claim.

In the instant case, the Court of Appeals used the chain of causation test described in Wiessing to determine that the evidence doesn't show Boyd's accident at the company party led to his suicide. The test requires an initially work-related injury defined by the Worker's Compensation Act; that injury directly caused the employee to become dominated by a disturbance of the mind with such severity as to override normal rational judgment; and that disturbance results in the employee's suicide.

Jane argued that Boyd suffered a mental injury of severe, acute depression as a result the company accident and that the company provided no evidence to explain Boyd's change in demeanor immediately following the wreck other than the accident itself.

"However, a change in demeanor is not equivalent to a mental injury," wrote Judge Terry Crone. "We cannot equate post-traumatic stress disorder with Boyd's distress, albeit extreme, following the truck accident. Also, we observe that although the evidence shows that Boyd suffered from depression in the past and may have been suffering from depression at the time of the truck accident and had obsessive-compulsive tendencies, there is no indication that his depression or obsessive-compulsive tendencies were caused by accident arising out of and in the course of employment."

Without an initial work-related injury, the chain of causation test isn't satisfied. The evidence and the reasonable inferences drawn from them support the board's decision that the company carried its burden to prove Boyd's death was caused by his knowingly self-inflicted injury, wrote the judge.

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  1. It really doesn't matter what the law IS, if law enforcement refuses to take reports (or take them seriously), if courts refuse to allow unrepresented parties to speak (especially in Small Claims, which is supposedly "informal"). It doesn't matter what the law IS, if constituents are unable to make effective contact or receive any meaningful response from their representatives. Two of our pets were unnecessarily killed; court records reflect that I "abandoned" them. Not so; when I was denied one of them (and my possessions, which by court order I was supposed to be able to remove), I went directly to the court. And earlier, when I tried to have the DV PO extended (it expired while the subject was on probation for violating it), the court denied any extension. The result? Same problems, less than eight hours after expiration. Ironic that the county sheriff was charged (and later pleaded to) with intimidation, but none of his officers seemed interested or capable of taking such a report from a private citizen. When I learned from one officer what I needed to do, I forwarded audio and transcript of one occurrence and my call to law enforcement (before the statute of limitations expired) to the prosecutor's office. I didn't even receive an acknowledgement. Earlier, I'd gone in to the prosecutor's office and been told that the officer's (written) report didn't match what I said occurred. Since I had the audio, I can only say that I have very little faith in Indiana government or law enforcement.

  2. One can only wonder whether Mr. Kimmel was paid for his work by Mr. Burgh ... or whether that bill fell to the citizens of Indiana, many of whom cannot afford attorneys for important matters. It really doesn't take a judge(s) to know that "pavement" can be considered a deadly weapon. It only takes a brain and some education or thought. I'm glad to see the conviction was upheld although sorry to see that the asphalt could even be considered "an issue".

  3. In response to bryanjbrown: thank you for your comment. I am familiar with Paul Ogden (and applaud his assistance to Shirley Justice) and have read of Gary Welsh's (strange) death (and have visited his blog on many occasions). I am not familiar with you (yet). I lived in Kosciusko county, where the sheriff was just removed after pleading in what seems a very "sweetheart" deal. Unfortunately, something NEEDS to change since the attorneys won't (en masse) stand up for ethics (rather making a show to please the "rules" and apparently the judges). I read that many attorneys are underemployed. Seems wisdom would be to cull the herd and get rid of the rotting apples in practice and on the bench, for everyone's sake as well as justice. I'd like to file an attorney complaint, but I have little faith in anything (other than the most flagrant and obvious) resulting in action. My own belief is that if this was medicine, there'd be maimed and injured all over and the carnage caused by "the profession" would be difficult to hide. One can dream ... meanwhile, back to figuring out to file a pro se "motion to dismiss" as well as another court required paper that Indiana is so fond of providing NO resources for (unlike many other states, who don't automatically assume that citizens involved in the court process are scumbags) so that maybe I can get the family law attorney - whose work left me with no settlement, no possessions and resulted in the death of two pets (etc ad nauseum) - to stop abusing the proceedings supplemental and small claims rules and using it as a vehicle for harassment and apparently, amusement.

  4. Been on social security sense sept 2011 2massive strokes open heart surgery and serious ovarian cancer and a blood clot in my lung all in 14 months. Got a letter in may saying that i didn't qualify and it was in form like i just applied ,called social security she said it don't make sense and you are still geting a check in june and i did ,now i get a check from my part D asking for payment for july because there will be no money for my membership, call my prescription coverage part D and confirmed no check will be there.went to social security they didn't want to answer whats going on just said i should of never been on it .no one knows where this letter came from was California im in virginia and been here sense my strokes and vcu filed for my disability i was in the hospital when they did it .It's like it was a error . My ,mothers social security was being handled in that office in California my sister was dealing with it and it had my social security number because she died last year and this letter came out of the same office and it came at the same time i got the letter for my mother benefits for death and they had the same date of being typed just one was on the mail Saturday and one on Monday. . I think it's a mistake and it should been fixed instead there just getting rid of me .i never got a formal letter saying when i was being tsken off.

  5. Employers should not have racially discriminating mind set. It has huge impact on the society what the big players do or don't do in the industry. Background check is conducted just to verify whether information provided by the prospective employee is correct or not. It doesn't have any direct combination with the rejection of the employees. If there is rejection, there should be something effective and full-proof things on the table that may keep the company or the people associated with it in jeopardy.

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