Appeals court awards workers’ comp benefits to widow

Last month, the North Carolina Court of Appeals upheld a decision to award $550 a week in workers’ compensation to the widow of a US Airways Inc. employee who suffered a lower-back injury.

The woman’s husband was injured in 2000 while lifting luggage as an employee of US Airways.  Four years later, a doctor prescribed the worker methadone to treat ongoing back pain.  A buildup of methadone in the man’s system was found to have contributed to his death.

The North Carolina Industrial Commission awarded workers’ compensation to the US Airways worker’s wife, but the ruling was appealed by the airline.  The airline claimed that the man’s death was caused by fatty liver disease, which prevented his body from being able to metabolize the methadone he was taking.

The doctor who prescribed the medication testified that the worker did not abuse the medication.  The appellate court ruled that “the toxic build-up of methadone prescribed to manage [the worker’s] pain resulting from a compensable injury to a reasonable degree contributed to his death,” and awarded the worker’s wife benefits.