Eric Wind Attorney at NH Public Utilities Commission in Concord.

Supreme Court At-a-Glance Contributor Eric Wind, Attorney at the NH Public Utilities Commission in Concord, N.H.

No. 2020-0185

October 14, 2021

Reversed and Remanded.

 

  • Whether the Compensation Appeals Board (CAB) erred in denying the estate’s claim for workers’ compensation and death benefits following the claimant’s suicide?

 

The decedent was employed as a branch manager at OL International Holdings, an international shipping and logistics company.  The decedent had expressed stress related to his work and other factors in 2016 and early 2017.  Thereafter, the decedent committed suicide.  The decedent’s estate provided a notice of accidental injury or occupational disease to his employer which stated that the decedent had developed severe depression and anxiety from the stress of the job.  The workers’ compensation insurer denied the estate’s claim for benefits and the estate challenged the finding at the Department of Labor and the CAB, both of which upheld the workers’ compensation denial.   The CAB found that the estate failed to prove by a preponderance that the decedent’s anxiety and major depression were causally related to his employment.  The Court held that an employee may receive workers’ compensation benefits for depression induced in part by employment-related stress even if the employee suffers from pre-existing depression and other mental health issues.  The Court discussed the standards for legal and medical causation in a case when an employee suffers from a pre-existing condition.  With regard to legal causation, the employee must show that his work-related conditions presented greater risks than those he encountered in his non-employment activities.  As to medical causation, the employee has the burden to demonstrate that work-related activities probably caused or contributed to the injury as a matter of medical fact.  The Court remanded for the CAB to apply the chain-of-causation test that places the burden on the claimant to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that there was an unbroken chain of causation between the work-related injury, the disturbance of mind and the ultimate suicide.  That is, the Court remanded the case to the CAB to determine whether the decedent’s death by suicide was a direct and natural result of his initial compensable injury of anxiety and depression such that the suicide is compensable under RSA 281-A:26.

 

Law Office of Manning & Zimmerman, of Manchester (Maureen Raiche Manning on the brief and Anna Goulet Zimmerman on the brief and orally) for the petitioner.  Trombley & Kfoury, of Bedford (J. Kirk Trombley on the brief and Paul R. Kfoury, Jr. on the brief and orally) for the respondents.