Nevada High Court Sanctions Worker's Comp Claims for Suicide

July 28, 2008 ( - If a Nevada worker suffers a workplace injury that is sufficiently connected to that person's later suicide, the worker's family can file a worker's compensation claim, the Nevada Supreme Court ruled.

The state’s high court ruled that those making the claim have to show that the employee suffered an industrial injury that, in turn, caused a psychological ailment that made a severe enough impact to “override rational judgment.” Finally, justices ruled, those filing the claim have to show the psychological injury caused the worker to take his or her own life.

The decision stems from a back injury Danny Vredenburg, a bartender, suffered from slipping on a flight of stairs, causing disc derangement in several locations along his spine, court records show. According to the documents, despite surgery and taking pain medications, Vredenburg continued to suffer back pain.

One doctor recommended he claim permanent disability because of the chronic pain. After Vredenburg killed himself, the court said, a second doctor asserted Vredenburg had committed suicide because of the pain – an opinion that sparked a move by his widow to file for benefits.

However, the insurance administrator for the deceased man’s employer ruled that the doctor’s opinion was not backed up by a medical reason linking the injury to the suicide and turned aside the claim. A worker’s comp appeals officer agreed, and a trial court judge turned down the window’s request for a review by a judge.

The Nevada Supreme Court threw out the lower court decision and sent the case back for review.

The opinion in Sharon Vredenburg versus Sedgwick CMA and Flamingo Hilton-Laughlin is available  here .