Sheena H. v. W. Va. Office of Ins. Commissioner

Sheena H. v. W. Va. Office of Ins. Commissioner, a workers’ compensation appeal from West Virginia, involved employee who was a 24-year-old coal miner who died as result of a seizure while he was sleeping. His mother and his 6-year-old daughter survived him.

This case involved a workers’ compensation death benefits claim on behalf of employee’s surviving daughter. While his mother filed the appeal, she was not a party to the matter.

strip-mine-excavator-3-262839-m.jpgPrior to his death in December of 2010, employee was injured in an on-the-job accident in March of 2009. While employee was working in the mine, a wrench which was on the ceiling of the coal mine fell and hit employee on the head. He was knocked unconscious for about a minute and was left with a knot on his head approximately the size of a golf ball.

He was taken to a local hospital for evaluation and treatment, but, unfortunately, his examining physicians did not realize the vast extent of his injury at that time. Instead, he was given a prescription for painkillers and sent home. Doctors told him to go the walk-in clinic later if he felt it was necessary. He did not return to the walk-in clinic and his claim for workers’ compensation was closed, because he only missed three days from work. As our Asheville workers’ compensation attorney can explain, in North Carolina, there is no compensation for the first seven days of missed work unless the total length of disability exceeds 21 days.

Nearly two years after his work-related head injury, employee died in his sleep. The state medical examiner performed an autopsy; however, the results were not released to the family until eight months following employee’s death. Medical examiner concluded employee died from a seizure, which was a result of his 2009 work-related head injury. There was no information as to when he began suffering from the seizure disorder, but his certificate of death was amended from cause of death being a seizure to traumatic seizure disorder.

When the family filed for workers’ compensation death benefits, their claim was rejected on grounds that the claim was filed more than six months after employee’s death, surviving mother was not the correct party to file a claim on employee’s child’s behalf, and there was insufficient evidence his work-related head injury was a major contributing cause of death.

Following workers’ compensation commissioners’ denial of benefits, employee’s surviving mother’s appealed the decision. With respect to the issue of surviving mother being the wrong party, appellate court appointed a guardian ad litem (GAL) on behalf of the child, though it ultimately found surviving mother was a proper party. With respect to the issue of whether claim was timely filed, the court looked at the legislature’s intent when drafting the statute.

It was clear the family did not have knowledge of the cause of employee’s death until viewing the autopsy report, and in applying a tolling to the applicable statue of limitations on filing a workers’ compensation claim, appellate court reversed and remanded workers’ compensation commission’s denial of death benefits.

If you have been injured at work, contact the Lee Law Offices at 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:
Sheena H. v. W. Va. Office of Ins. Commissioner , Apr. 10, 2015, WV Court of Appeals

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Shepard v. Dept. of Corrections – Continuing Medical Care, March 20, 2015, Winston-Salem Work Injury Lawyer Blog

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