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Employer must pay $760,000 over obese worker’s death

In Kathryn Ann Kratz as executrix of the estate of the late Owen Beddall v Qantas Airways Limited (2020), the NSW Workers Compensation Commission (NSWWCC) found that a worker’s death from a pulmonary embolism was ultimately connected to a back injury he sustained at work.

This was even though the worker was overweight and had deep vein thrombosis in both legs and his left arm before his injury.

The NSWWCC found that “the weight gained by the deceased worker following his work injury materially contributed to, and was at least a cause of, the development of the deep vein thrombosis that was found at the time of his death and which in turn led to the pulmonary emboli”.

Work injury to blame for worker’s weight gain

The worker sustained an injury to his lower back in 2011 during a compulsory training exercise, resulting in him requiring five back operations over the following four years.

During that time, his weight increased from 100 kilograms to 134 kilograms.

While the employer admitted liability for the worker’s back injury, it disputed liability for his death because of his long history of deep vein thrombosis. It referred to a doctor’s report a year prior to his injury which warned of the ongoing health risks he faced with his condition.

However, NSWWCC Arbitrator John Isaksen disagreed that “deep vein thrombosis can be isolated and that it is unrelated to the work injury sustained by the deceased worker”.

“It is well recognised that a medical condition can have multiple causes and what must be determined is whether the work injury is the cause of a condition which results in the death of the deceased worker,” he said.

“The deceased did have an increase in weight following the work injury due to his inactivity and the weight gain did contribute to the deep vein thrombosis which caused the pulmonary emboli and the subsequent death of the deceased worker.

“There is an unbroken chain of events from the work injury sustained by the deceased worker to the pulmonary emboli which caused his death.”

Arbitrator Isaksen ordered the employer to pay $760,000 to the deceased worker’s estate, as well as $3,735 to his mother for funeral expenses.

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