South-Western Legal Studies in Business

Death in Surgery Related to Work Injury Due Workers' Compensation Benefits
Description Oklahoma high court held that when a worker died during surgery to replace a pacemaker that was deemed necessary prior to back surgery for an injury suffered on the job, the heart surgery was work related and so the worker's survivor is due benefits.
Topic Employment Law
Key Words Workers' Compensation; Work-Related Injury; Death
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Gray injured his back while carrying goods at work. Because he had a herniated disc, his doctor recommended he see a neurosurgeon. It was decided there would be surgery, but the surgeon was concerned that Gray's twenty-year-old pacemaker might not be able to handle the stress of surgery, so he sent him to a heart specialist for an evaluation. That doctor recommended replacing the pacemaker prior to heart surgery. During the procedure to replace the pacemaker, Gary died. His wife sought death benefits from workers' compensation. The company contested the claim, asserting that the death was caused by heart-related problems, which were not work related. The compensation court held that the death did not result from an injury in the course of employment. The appeals panel affirmed that decision, as did the court of civil appeals. Gray's wife appealed.
Decision

Reversed. The operation to replace the pacemaker was necessitated by the work-related back injury as a precursor to back surgery. Thus, Gray's surviving spouse was due death benefits under workers' compensation. Prior to the back injury, there had been no problem with the pacemaker. The only reason it was replaced was because of the impending back surgery, so his death would not have occurred except for the surgery required as a result of his back injury.

Citation In the Matter of the Death of Gray, --- P.3d --- (2004 WL 1506009, Sup. Ct., Okla., 2004)

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