Tennessee SC overturns decision in workers' compensation case after man dies from overdose

By Nicholas Gueguen | Apr 20, 2017

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Legal Newsline) - The Tennessee Supreme Court this month decided to overturn the Williamson County Chancery Court's decision in Judy Kilburn v. Granite State Insurance Co., et al, instead ruling that workers' compensation could not cover a man's overdose-induced death.

The high court found that Charles Kilburn's death "was no longer causally related to his work-related injury" because "Kilburn failed to take his pain medication in accordance with his physician's instructions, which ultimately caused his demise."

In its opinion published April 10, the Supreme Court explained that Kilburn was seriously hurt because of a car accident during work on Nov. 6, 2008, including breaking his C3 and C4 neck vertebrae and herniated discs in L4-5 and L5-S1.

The court said Kilburn had surgery on his cervical spine to address the neck problems he was having, then also was told to have lumbar spine surgery. However, the lumbar spine surgery did not happen because it was denied in a utilization review.

According to the high court's decision, in that utilization review, three other doctors argued that Dr. Jacob Schwarz, Kilburn's doctor, was wrong in diagnosing neurogenic claudication was causing Kilburn's pain in his back, which he claimed he continued to have after his neck surgery.

Kilburn, according to the court's opinion, used oxycodone for his back and his doctor sent him to pain management.

Dr. William Leone, the pain management doctor who saw Kilburn on Jan. 4, 2010, was worried about Kilburn drinking alcohol while taking his oxycodone.

According to the court, Kilburn told Leone that he didn't think the oxycodone was working anymore because Kilburn had been using two opioid tablets each time he took them instead of the prescribed one.

Judy Kilburn testified during the trial that she thought her husband used alcohol with his medication. She explained he would use alcohol to manage the pain when he would skip taking his medication in order to try to have the medication for more time.

The high court, in its decision, concluded Kilburn's death happened because he overdosed on oxycodone, had hypertension, and also had alcohol and tobacco in his system.

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