Must Asbestosis be the Sole Cause of Death in a Compensable Claim?
Michael Ray Patton brought an asbestosis claim against Sears Roebuck, which the parties settled. Mr. Patton later died, and his estate filed a death claim, which the Full Commission concluded was compensable. On appeal, defendants argued it was unclear whether Mr. Patton’s exposure to asbestos caused or significantly contributed to his death. On February 17, 2015, the Court of Appeals affirmed the Commission’s decision in Patton v. Sears Roebuck & Co.
The Court held that competent evidence supported the Commission’s finding that Patton’s work-related asbestosis significantly contributed to, and was a causal factor in, his death. Mr. Patton’s co-workers testified he was exposed to asbestos while working for Sears Roebuck, Mr. Patton’s death certificate listed asbestosis as a cause of death, his treating physician testified that he died secondary to respiratory failure related to restrictive lung disease/asbestosis and COPD, and another physician testified that Mr. Patton had a history of asbestosis exposure and that asbestosis contributed to his death. This competent evidence supported the Commission’s finding that Mr. Patton’s exposure to asbestos contributed to his disease and that asbestosis significantly contributed to his death.
Risk Handling Hint: Patton reminds risk managers that asbestosis (or any other occupational disease) does not need to be the only cause of an injured worker’s death in order for a death claim to be compensable. It is sufficient if the work-related occupational disease significantly contributed to, or was a causal factor in, the worker’s death.