The Nevada Supreme Court recently held that Nevada’s willful self-injury exclusion does not apply to a suicide if a sufficient chain of causation exists to demonstrate that a workplace injury is the cause of the suicide. Vredenburg v. Sedgwick CMS and Flamingo Hilton-Laughlin, 124 Nev. Advance Opinion 53 (Nev. Jul. 24, 2008).
The case involved Danny Vredenburg, a bartender who slipped on a flight of stairs while at work, which resulted in a severe back injury that led to surgery and untreatable pain. The constant pain caused Mr. Vredenburg to become psychologically de-stabilized and depressed and he committed suicide by a self-inflicted gunshot wound to his head. The testimony and evidence indicated that Mr. Vredenburg suffered an irreversible injury, unrelenting pain, a possible psychoactive reaction to prescribed medicine and extreme depression, which, according to the court, are the hallmarks of a compensable suicide under the chain-of-causation test.
The court held that in order for an employee’s surviving family member(s) to collect on a workers’ compensation claim involving a suicide, the claimant(s) must demonstrate that (1) the employee suffered an industrial injury; (2) the industrial injury caused some psychological condition severe enough to override the employee’s rational judgment; and (3) the psychological condition caused the employee to commit suicide. In so doing, the court rejected the voluntary willful choice test, whereby a suicide is compensable only if it resulted from an uncontrollable impulse or delirium of frenzy and it occurred without the employee’s knowledge of the physical consequences of his or her actions. The court also rejected the application of Nevada’s willful self-injury exclusion, under which an employee’s death is not compensable if it results from a “willful intention” to inflict self-injury, to the Vredenburg claim.
The Nevada Supreme Court remanded the case to the lower court with instructions to remand it to the workers’ compensation appeals officer to re-evaluate the claim utilizing the chain-of-causation test.