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Suicide may entitle survivor to workers’ comp

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in Employee Benefits Program,Human Resources

If a Georgia employee becomes despondent after an on-the-job injury and kills himself, his employer may be liable for workers’ compensation benefits for his survivors. That’s true even though the state’s Workers’ Compensation Act generally excludes intentionally self-inflicted injuries from coverage.

When severe post-traumatic stress robs the employee of his powers of judgment, the court could view the suicide as an “unintentional consequence” of the original on-the-job injury.

Tip: By way of prevention, employers may want to consider sponsoring counseling for injured employees.

Recent case: After Charles Lassiter, a Bayer Corp. employee, got into a car accident while traveling on business, he developed a constant ringing in his ears. His doctors weren’t able to cure his condition, called posttraumatic tinnitus.

One day, Lassiter told his wife he had to “do something” to stop the ringing. The next day, he shot himself. Lassiter’s widow sought survivor’s benefits, reasoning that the car accident caused the tinnitus that directly resulted in his suicide. It wasn’t an intentional suicide, she argued. Instead, her husband had just snapped.

Both the Workers’ Compensation Board and the Georgia Court of Appeals agreed, saying that if it weren’t for the accident, Lassiter wouldn’t have developed tinnitus or irrationally killed himself. (Bayer Corp., et al. v. Lassiter, et al., No. A06A0908, Georgia Court of Appeals, 2006)  

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