Kealoha v. Office of Workers Comp. Programs

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Workers Compensation
  • Date Filed: 04-09-2013
  • Case #: No. 11-71194
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Thomas for the Court; Circuit Judges Reinhardt and Paez
  • Full Text Opinion

A suicide or suicide attempt, even when planned, may be compensable under the Longshore Workers’ Compensation Act using the proper test, which requires a “direct and unbroken chain of causation between a work-related injury and the suicide attempt.”

In 2001, William Kealoha fell from a barge while working as a ship laborer. Keoloha suffered numerous injuries, including blunt force trauma to his head, chest and abdomen. He later filed a workers’ compensation claim under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act. In 2003, Keoloha attempted suicide, and claiming his suicide attempt was the result of the 2001 falls and litigation over the claim, Kealoha sought compensation for these injuries. The claim was initially barred by the administrative law judge (ALJ) because compensation for injury caused solely by an employee’s willful intention to kill himself did not meet the Benefit Review Board’s exception to § 903(c) of the Act. However, a suicide attempt is not willful when a work-related injury causes an “irresistible impulse” to commit suicide, and the Board reversed. The ALJ then found that the suicide was consistent with a planned and intentional action and could not have been the result of an “irresistible impulse,” and the Board affirmed. The Ninth Circuit held that the proper test to determine a compensable suicide is the “chain of causation” test, not the “irresistible impulse” test. The panel found that the “chain of causation” test better reflected a modern understanding of psychology, the Act’s focus on causation, and the modern trend of case law. Kealoha did not need to show that he attempted suicide in a delirium or frenzy, nor did the fact that he planned his suicide definitively show his attempt was voluntary. The panel remanded for the Board or the ALJ to apply the appropriate test. PETITION GRANTED and REMANDED.

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