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Supreme Court: ANY Industrial Contribution to Primarily Non-Industrial Overdose is Compensable

Hello dear readers!

The Supreme Court has issued its opinion in the South Coast Farming case, and has reversed the Court of Appeal’s opinion, which had previously rescinded the finding of industrial causation in the overdose death of applicant B. Clark.

By way of background, applicant while taking medication for an industrial injury, as well as other medication for non-industrial difficulty sleeping, suffered an overdose resulting in his death.  His wife and children sought death benefits (a somewhat gruesome term that still bothers your humble bloggers delicate and sensitive nature) only to have the Agreed Medical Evaluator opine that the medication taken for the industrial injury made, at most, the “crust” of the causation pie.

The finding of compensability was appealed to and reversed by the Court of Appeal.  Your humble blogger may have even weighed in on the issue himself.

Now the Supreme Court has issued its opinion: “The [COA] thus concluded that, although Elavil ‘played a role’ in Clark’s death, it was insufficient to prove proximate causation because it was not sufficiently ‘significant’ or a ‘material factor.’  This analysis fails to honor the difference between tort law principles and the application of the workers’ compensation scheme … In the workers’ compensation system, the industrial injury need only be a contributing cause to the disability.”

In short, if the crust is part of the pie, then the resulting stomach ache is an industrial injury.  No … wait … if the pie is in the crust, and the crust flakes into the pie, then it’s a crusty pie which is industrial.  No… if the pie is cut in two, and then some of the crust falls into the… pies are delicious, and lend themselves to a sweet tooth, an empty stomach, and, as your humble blogger has found on many occasions, even a broken heart, but workers’ compensation analogies aren’t the best plate for this meal.

The industrial cause, even if not “significant” or “a material factor” is enough.  One drop of industrial poison spoils the well.

So, why is your humble blogger so upset about the results that follow this decision?  Civil Code section 3333.1 – “no source of collateral benefits introduced pursuant to subdivision (a) shall recover any amount against the plaintiff nor shall it be subrogated to the rights of the plaintiff against a defendant.”  If there is a basis to claim medical malpractice on the part of one or more of the physicians involved in this case (doctors – I said “if”, so you can hang up the phones and let your libel attorneys get back to counting the retainers you’ve paid them) there’s nothing in it for the comp carrier.

The family of the deceased might be able to recover in tort against the physicians involved, but they can now ALSO recover from the comp carrier, and there is no credit or remedy for the workers’ comp insurer.

At the risk of sounding childish – it isn’t fair.

Have a good weekend, folks!

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