An employee was prescribed pain meds for a workplace injury. He’d also been taking a medication for depression. An accidental overdose of both meds caused his death. Can his widow get survivor’s benefits under workers’ comp?
Anthony Sapko worked as a corrections officer in the Connecticut prison system.
He was injured four times on the job. Following the third injury, a doctor prescribed medication for back pain.
Sapko had also been prescribed medication for major depression for more than five years before he started taking the pain meds.
Sapko died of what was ruled to be an accidental overdose. At the time of his death, the level of Oxycodone (pain med) in his system was 20 times higher than the prescribed dosage, and the level of Seroquel (depression med) in his system was five times the prescribed dose.
Sapko’s widow applied for workers’ comp death benefits on the grounds that his work injuries were the proximate cause of his death.
A workers’ comp commissioner found that, since the overdose was the combination of both drugs, not just the pain medication, there was a superseding cause of death, and survivor’s benefits should not be awarded. The commissioner also found that both drugs could be taken safely if taken in the proper dosages. The record showed Sapko received counseling on the proper use of pain medications.
Sapko’s widow appealed to the full comp board and then a state appeals court. Both upheld the commissioner’s ruling.
Her final step was to take the case to the Connecticut Supreme Court.
That court also ruled death benefits shouldn’t be provided.
The court noted that the commissioner credited testimony of an expert who said the amount of Oxycodone alone wouldn’t have been enough to kill Sapko. The expert said it was the combination of the excessive amounts of both drugs that claimed his life.
For that reason, there was a superseding cause of death, and therefore workers’ comp benefits should not be provided, the court said.
What do you think of the court’s decision? Let us know in the comments below.
(Sapko v. Connecticut, Supreme Court of CT, No. 18680, 6/12/12)