Chain of Causation Not Broken Between Worker’s Accident and Death from Ingestion of Alcohol and Pain Medications

The Washington Department of Labor and Industries filed a petition for review of the decision of the Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals that reversed the denial by an industrial appeals judge of the application by a worker's widow for survivor benefits after the worker died from ingestion of alcohol in combination with medications prescribed to treat pain symptoms from a work-related injury. The Superior Court affirmed the Board's decision, and the Department appealed.


The appeals court noted a claimant's aggravation of a work-related injury caused by the ordinary incidents of living is compensable where the claimant's behavior was neither improper or unreasonable, i.e., neither temerarious or rash. On the other hand, an aggravation caused by activities in which the claimant could not, because of his existing disability, reasonably expect to engage in without injury, would not be compensable.


The court determined the injured worker's ingestion of alcohol, in combination with the medications prescribed to alleviate pain symptoms for a work-related accident, did not break the chain of causation between the work accident and his death. Thus, the worker's widow was entitled to survivor benefits, even if the worker was warned against consuming alcohol while taking the medications.


The court reasoned the medicines were a contributing cause of death, there was no dispute that the worker's death was an accidental, and but for the worker's ingestion of the medications prescribed to treat the pain symptoms from the work-related injury, the worker would not have died.


See: Department of Labor and Industries v. Shirley, 288 P.3d 390 (Wash.App. Div. 1 Nov 13, 2012).