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Is Suicide Compensable Under Worker’s Compensation Death Benefits?

Suicide is a difficult subject, and we don’t discuss it lightly.

Nevertheless, suicide is a subject that can come up in New Jersey workers’ compensation cases. Under most circumstances, a self-inflicted injury or death is not compensable, but exceptions exist. 

It doesn’t come up often, but this workers’ compensation law provision is worth knowing about.

The 1945 case Konazewska v. Erie R.R. Co. established a 4-part test that said an employee’s suicide was not compensable unless:

1. It’s the direct result of a physical injury.

2. The worker was possessed of an uncontrollable impulse to commit suicide or is in a delirium of frenzy.

3. The worker did not consciously intend to kill themselves.

4. They do not recognize the consequences of self-destruction. 

The 1980 case Kahle v. Plochman involves a suicidal worker.  Rosalie Kahle was injured during her employment at a mustard plant. She sustained back and left leg injuries and suffered from chronic pain and depression. She was permanently partially disabled. She could never return to work and suffered complications from her accidents.

Eventually, she ended her own life. Her husband requested dependency death benefits for himself and his children, alleging that her suicide directly resulted from her work-related injuries. 

During this case, the court ruled that a chain-of-causation test is “a more realistic and reasonable standard” than the 4-part test. Kahle established that “an employee’s death by suicide is compensable where the original work-connected injuries result in the employee’s becoming dominated by a disturbance of mind directly caused by his or her injury and its consequences, such as extreme pain and despair, of such severity as to override normal rational judgment.” 

What if the employee suffers such extreme stress at work that they develop a mental illness and commit suicide? 

While we have not seen cases that cover this specific situation in New Jersey, New Jersey Workers’ Compensation law nevertheless includes coverage for mental illness as a compensable injury. While it is very difficult to prove that a mental illness is only work-related, it could theoretically be possible to press for death benefits in such a situation.

If your loved one has died as a result of work-related injuries and you need to claim dependency benefits, don’t leave anything up to chance. Schedule a consultation with your firm to protect your rights. Employers and insurance companies will look for any reason to avoid paying any claim. We look for any reason to get you the compensation you deserve. Contact us today.

See also:

Claiming Workers Compensation Death Benefits in New Jersey

Getting Workers’ Compensation for PTSD in New Jersey

How Much Does a New Jersey Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Cost? 

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The Law Office Of Albert J. Talone is committed to providing for those with Workers Compensation cases throughout New Jersey.
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