In a precedent-setting case, the Nevada Supreme Court held last Thursday that worker comp benefits can go to families of people who kill themselves if an industrial accident broke down their “rational mental process” and left them suicidal.
The high court ruling revives a case brought by Sharon Vredenburg, whose husband Danny shot himself in the head because he couldn’t stop the pain of a severe back injury suffered when he slipped on stairs while working as a bartender at a hotel-casino in Laughlin.
The ruling directs a Clark County district judge to remand the case to an appeals officer who previously had rejected the widow’s bid for worker compensation death benefits.
Nevada law prevents surviving family members from recovering benefits if an employee’s death results from “a willful intention to injure himself.” But justices said benefits can be paid if an on-the-job accident “caused some psychological condition severe enough to override the employee’s rational judgment” and that condition eventually led to suicide.
Vredenburg continued to have pain following back surgery, even after having a morphine pump implanted in his spine, and a doctor determined that he had become “psychologically destabilized.” Before killing himself, Vredenburg wrote several suicide notes and told a friend he could no longer take the pain and all his pain medications, according to court records.
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