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Can a suicide attempt be part of a workers’ compensation claim?

If someone’s injuries from a work-related accident are so severe and so painful that the victim ultimately feels compelled to take his or her own life, should the resulting injuries from the suicide attempt be part of the claim for workers’ compensation?

According to the review board that oversaw a case filed under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act, it should.

The case, which marks a defining moment that could affect many others in the future, involved a man who fell more than 25 feet onto the steel floor of a dry dock. The worker suffered multiple traumatic injuries and developed chronic pain. Litigation over the fall was also complicated, leading to the worker’s depression. He eventually picked up a gun and shot himself in the head — although he ultimately survived the suicide attempt.

Initially, the judge in the case refused to allow the worker to include the head injuries from the suicide attempt in his workers’ compensation claim, on the basis that workers can’t claim benefits for injuries that are caused by their own willful acts. The review board overturned the judge, however, saying that the attempted suicide was the product of an irresistible impulse — brought on by the injuries he’d already suffered from the fall. A panel of judges who heard the appeal on the case affirmed the review board’s decision.

This is an important issue for injured workers to understand. It’s a recognition that mental disorders, including severe depression, can cause people to sometimes behave in ways that aren’t fully under their control. The victim of a serious mental disorder cannot just will himself or herself to act in a different manner. When there’s a direct line of causation between a work injury and a depression that leads to a suicide attempt, it’s unfair to punish the worker for his or her mental illness by classifying the act as “willful.”

Shipyard injuries can be among the most devastating physical injuries a worker can suffer. If you’ve been injured, it’s important to seek help for your situation. You’re entitled to financial compensation and assistance with mental health issues as well.