A former employee of a Fort Worth, TX mortuary is suing his former employer for both physical and mental injuries he claims to have incurred on the job. In the lawsuit, he claims in one incident he got sick from a body he was performing services on. In another he claims he was traumatized by what he saw. He is seeking “monetary relief between $100,000 and $1 million, including back pay, front pay, compensatory and punitive damages, as well as legal fees”.

According to the source story, the two specific incidents prompting the lawsuit are:

On Nov. 13, 2016, [he] was asked to perform services on a man who had committed suicide by ingesting paint fumes. The lawsuit claims [he] began to suffer chronic asthma afterward because he lacked “personal protective equipment.”

On Dec. 16, 2016, [his] lawsuit claims he had to perform services on a mother and her 3-month-old child who had been decapitated. [He] says he suffered post-traumatic stress due to this case.

I don’t know enough on the specifics of the case to really form an opinion (like that has ever stopped me), but I do have some questions (like that should surprise you).

My first question, related to the alleged “sudden onset asthma syndrome”, was simply, “Is there such a thing as sudden onset asthma? According to my extensive research, which included going all the way to the first organic search result on Google, the answer is, “yes”, although it is called Reactive Airways Dysfunction Syndrome.

According to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, there are two types of Occupational Asthma; Sensitizer Induced and Irritant Induced. Sensitizer Induced asthma can occur when a body develops “a sensitization (an allergic-type) reaction when it is exposed continuously to a substance.” Irritant Induced Asthma, on the other hand, “is caused by the direct irritating effect of certain substances on the airways.” This would be the aforementioned Reactive Airways Dysfunction Syndrome, or RADS. According to the Canadians, “RADS appears after an acute, single exposure to high level of irritating agents (e.g., chlorine, anhydrous ammonia). There is no latency period. The symptoms develop soon after the exposure, usually within 24 hours, and may reappear after months or years, when the person is re-exposed to the irritants.”

There will probably be some grumbling and consternation that I refer to a Canadian government body as a source for my story. To those who think this is relevant I say this; the Canadians (mostly) speak English and drive on the right side of the road (with the exception of a few Florida snowbirds). That is good enough for me, and means it must be pretty much the same, eh? Besides, the US government should work on better positioning on Google then, eh?

But I digress…..

If RADS can appear after an acute, single exposure to a high level of irritating agents, then that suicide victim must have inhaled one whopping amount of paint fumes; especially considering he likely would have undergone an autopsy (and have been partially ventilated) prior to hitting the mortuary.

Still, as I indicated, I don’t know enough to fully judge, and anyone working with dead bodies should have appropriate protective equipment. The fact that embalmers are listed as the 24th most unhealthy job by Business Insider should confirm that (even though we really do not know what this gentleman’s actual job was).

The second part of the lawsuit represents a trending concern for not just the workers’ compensation industry, but for the nation as a whole. The growing prevalence of PTSD is a serious concern. The man bringing the suit had worked in the mortuary for 3 years. I think the body of a decapitated child would be a shocking thing to endure, but then again, I could never, ever work in a mortuary. Could it be something that would cause a professional in the field to be unable to function further? We are seeing this across the nation in a variety of disciplines. At what point will we not be able to do our most difficult jobs because the people who perform them are too affected to continue?

That is likely a topic for another day; the real topic for today is that this may very well be a lawsuit that never had to happen.

The man’s former employer is Accu Care Mortuary Service, Inc. A search of the Texas Subscriber database for the months the injuries are claimed produced no record of workers’ comp coverage for this company. Additionally, they were not listed as an approved self-insurer in the state. That means, barring a technical error in the Texas system records, that Accu Care Mortuary Service, Inc., is quite possibly a Texas non-subscriber; they would be “naked” when it comes to injuries that occur under the auspices of their employment (Accu Care was also not to be found on the downloadable Reported Non-Subscriber list, so this exercise may be entirely theoretical). The lawsuit allegedly claims that Accu Care didn’t pay for this worker’s medical expenses, and that he was terminated when he said he would file for worker’s compensation.

I am confused, as I thought the PTSD was preventing him from working, but then again, I get confused a lot.

My point is that this is a lawsuit that likely never had to see the light of day. If in fact the company in question elected not to carry workers’ compensation coverage, even if they have an “alternative plan”, they have exposed themselves to lawsuits of this nature. If valid comp coverage was in place, the actions they have been accused of might lead to an improper termination lawsuit, but the medical component would be handled by the comp system sans punitive damages.

I have long said that many employers have long since forgotten the side of the “Grand Bargain” that affords them protections in cases such as this. Workers’ comp has become a “nuisance expense” for some, and the benefits of coverage have not been adequately explained to them. Texas provides us some good examples of the risk of not opting in to workers’ comp.

Unfortunately for some employers, it is a lesson they might learn the hard way.

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