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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. Indiana's seatbelt law is not punishable as a crime. It is an infraction. Apparently some of our Circuit judges have deemed settled law inapplicable if it fails to fit their litmus test of political correctness. Extrapolating to redefine terms of behavior in a violation of immigration law to the entire body of criminal law leaves a smorgasbord of opportunity for judicial mischief.

  2. I wonder if $10 diversions for failure to wear seat belts are considered moral turpitude in federal immigration law like they are under Indiana law? Anyone know?

  3. What a fine article, thank you! I can testify firsthand and by detailed legal reports (at end of this note) as to the dire consequences of rejecting this truth from the fine article above: "The inclusion and expansion of this right [to jury] in Indiana’s Constitution is a clear reflection of our state’s intention to emphasize the importance of every Hoosier’s right to make their case in front of a jury of their peers." Over $20? Every Hoosier? Well then how about when your very vocation is on the line? How about instead of a jury of peers, one faces a bevy of political appointees, mini-czars, who care less about due process of the law than the real czars did? Instead of trial by jury, trial by ideological ordeal run by Orwellian agents? Well that is built into more than a few administrative law committees of the Ind S.Ct., and it is now being weaponized, as is revealed in articles posted at this ezine, to root out post moderns heresies like refusal to stand and pledge allegiance to all things politically correct. My career was burned at the stake for not so saluting, but I think I was just one of the early logs. Due, at least in part, to the removal of the jury from bar admission and bar discipline cases, many more fires will soon be lit. Perhaps one awaits you, dear heretic? Oh, at that Ind. article 12 plank about a remedy at law for every damage done ... ah, well, the founders evidently meant only for those damages done not by the government itself, rabid statists that they were. (Yes, that was sarcasm.) My written reports available here: Denied petition for cert (this time around): http://tinyurl.com/zdmawmw Denied petition for cert (from the 2009 denial and five year banishment): http://tinyurl.com/zcypybh Related, not written by me: Amicus brief: http://tinyurl.com/hvh7qgp

  4. Justice has finally been served. So glad that Dr. Ley can finally sleep peacefully at night knowing the truth has finally come to the surface.

  5. While this right is guaranteed by our Constitution, it has in recent years been hampered by insurance companies, i.e.; the practice of the plaintiff's own insurance company intervening in an action and filing a lien against any proceeds paid to their insured. In essence, causing an additional financial hurdle for a plaintiff to overcome at trial in terms of overall award. In a very real sense an injured party in exercise of their right to trial by jury may be the only party in a cause that would end up with zero compensation.

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