Nadeau v. Maine Bureau of Parks and Recreation
State of Maine Workers' Compensation Division
February 20, 2020
Back Depression Suicide Death Presumption §327 Stress Work-Related Stress
Summary from the Troubh Heisler Attorneys
In 1992 Mr. Nadeau injured his back at work and developed depression from the injury. In 2003 Judge Pelletier awarded him ongoing partial incapacity benefits, and in 2010 he awarded of total incapacity benefits because Mr. Neadeau’s depression had worsened, requiring hospitalization for suicidal ideation. By 2016, his condition had greatly improved and he had no further suicidal ideation but did have continued back pain with some remaining psychological symptoms. He had stress from other sources, too, including family and property issues.
Mr. Neadeau committed suicide in 2016, and Ms. Neadeau filed a Petition for Award seeking death benefits. Ms. Neadeau had the benefit of the §327 presumption of compensability, which gave the Bureau the burden of disproving causation. Ms. Neadeau’s expert Dr. Voss said Mr. Neadeau’s depression and suicide was from his chronic back pain, as “there were no other significant contributing factors.” The Bureau’s expert Dr. Gallon said Mr. Neadeau’s chronic pain was “highly unlikely” to have contributed to his death. Judge Hirtle found the Bureau had met its burden of proof and denied the petition.
Ms. Neadeau appealed, arguing that the Bureau had failed to rebut the presumption, and that Judge Hirtle failed to apply res judicata based on the earlier decrees. The appellate panel upheld the decision, however, noting it was within Judge Hirtle’s purview to choose among different medical opinions, and the parties had not previously litigated whether Mr. Nadeau’s work-related depression caused his death. The panel noted that Mr. Neadeau had other sources of stress in his life that contributed to his depression, and that Dr. Voss did not consider these other source of stress.