One day at work, an employee collapsed and complained about difficulty breathing. Three weeks later he was dead. Was exposure to lime dust and diesel fumes the cause, and will his widow get death benefits?
Blake Frederick, an employee of M-I LLC, passed out at work on Nov. 20, 2006, and was unresponsive for a while. When he came to, he said it was difficult for him to breathe.
He was taken to a hospital where he stayed for nine days.
On Dec. 12, 2006, he was taken again to an ER where he died.
His wife filed a claim for death benefits which were awarded by an administrative law judge (ALJ). A three-judge Benefits Review Board upheld the ALJ’s decision.
M-I took the case to a U.S. appeals court, arguing the evidence did not demonstrate that Frederick’s death was work-related.
The appeals court reviewed the records of the initial hearing by the ALJ. The ALJ heard live testimony from a doctor who said Frederick’s exposure to lime dust and diesel fumes caused damage to the pulmonary artery, which created a blood clot that led to his death.
The ALJ found the doctor’s testimony to be “clear and credible,” noting that the physician was a board certified forensic pathologist and toxicologist who had performed over 5,000 autopsies.
The doctor’s trial testimony was “comprehensive” and supported by medical records, according to the ALJ.
On the other hand, the ALJ found other doctors presented as witnesses by the company to be not as credible.
That’s all the appeals court needed to read in the record to uphold the ALJ’s decision.
“We accord deference to the ALJ’s firsthand credibility and evidence weighing determinations,” the appeals court judges wrote in their opinion.
Granted, on the surface, this type of case is much less clear-cut than, say, when an employee falls to his death on the job. You can’t blame a company for at least contemplating an appeal in this case.
But faced with expert testimony from a board certified forensic pathologist and toxicologist who performed over 5,000 autopsies … the company had to know this would be an uphill battle.
(M-I LLC v. Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs, U.S. Circuit Crt. 5, No. 11-60694, 6/13/12)
You can download a PDF of the decision here.