In a Louisiana Third Circuit Court of Appeal case released yesterday, the court reversed and remanded a decision which had initially granted summary judgment in favor of the employer on prescriptive grounds in a potentially work-related overdose death case. Two judges dissented. In Estate of Shellie Belaire v. Crawfish Town USA/LUBA Workers’ Comp, Belaire was treated for chronic pain associated with an alleged injury, the circumstances of which are unclear. Crawfish Town/LUBA denies that any accident occurred. Over the course of chronic pain treatment, Belaire died. A coroner’s report (and associated deposition) determined that her death was likely “mixed drug toxicity” but that he couldn’t rule out other factors entirely. Upon learning this information, Belaire’s dependent children filed suit. The WCJ granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants, due to the one year prescriptive period for death benefits.
However, on appeal, the Third Circuit found that the plaintiffs’ filing was timely despite falling outside of one year, since they could not have known that they had a cause of action until the coroner’s report was complete. Further, the court opined that causation in the case presented an issue of material fact, where the coroner’s lack of absolute certainty in the overdose finding could fall in favor of either side. Judges Amy and Pickett dissented, explaining that: “At most, the coroner generally expressed the probability that prescription medication caused the decedent’s death. However, there is no evidence placing the death within the context of the workers’ compensation claim or the treatment received by the claimant as a result thereof.”
Read the decision in full here.