Time to Start Monitoring Your Plaintiff’s Medications: An Accidental Overdose on Pain Medication Following an Accident Can Be Foreseeable.

In Rice v. West 37th Group, LLC, the decedent, an employee of Five Boro, was injured after falling 15 feet from a ladder. Two years after the accident, the decedent died, and the autopsy ruled the cause of death to be an accident due to intoxication combined with certain drugs. Essentially, the decedent overdosed.

Five Boro, as the decedent’s employer, moved to dismiss the common-law contribution and indemnification claims on the basis that the decedent did not suffer a “grave injury.” In New York, Workers’ Compensation Law § 11 bars claims for common-law contribution and indemnification unless the plaintiff suffered a “grave injury.” Not surprisingly, death is one of the few injuries that qualify as “grave.”

Five Boro argued that the decedent’s death was an extraordinary and unforeseeable occurrence that could not be attributed to the accident. The First Department disagreed, finding that the decedent suffered serious injuries, requiring him to take significant pain-killing drugs, each of which carried its own risks, and that plaintiff showed that the decedent was not abusing his medication. Given that, the Court held that there was an issue of fact as to whether the decedent’s death, caused by an overdose, was a foreseeable result of the accident.

Special thanks to Gabe Darwick for his contributions to this post.  For more information, please contact Bob Cosgrove at rcosgrove@wcmlaw.com.