Compensability of Suicide Incidents Under the Defense Base Act

Compensability of Suicide Incidents Under the Defense Base Act

Suicide is an incredibly sensitive and disheartening topic to discuss for everyone. Unfortunately, suicide is real and occurs more often than likely imagined with nearly 43,000 occurrences in the United States every year and more than 1,000,000 attempts at suicide. More unsettling, almost a quarter of all suicides are committed by former military veterans. But, what about civilian contractors working in war zones overseas and supporting the U.S. military? For one, civilian contractors experience a lot of the same war-related exposures as our military veterans. Like many of our veterans, civilian contractors also suffer both physical and psychological injures as a result of war. Rather than being covered by the Veterans Administration, the civilian contractors’ injuries are covered by the Defense Base Act. But, what happens when a civilian contractor is severely injured while overseas, returns stateside, and due to the injuries, eventually ends his or her life? Are such incidents covered under the Defense Base Act’s death benefits provision for surviving spouses and dependents? There is no clear-cut answer because the Defense Base Act does not cover “self-inflicted” injuries. However, in some cases, the cumulative effect of work-related injuries can lead to suicide and may be covered but only in very specific circumstances. With the increased prevalence of such tragic events, there has been ongoing litigation on the compensability of suicide under the DBA for years.

Case in point, the attorneys at Doolittle & Tucker, P.A. recently prevailed in an extremely difficult, lengthy and hard-fought “suicide” case under the Defense Base Act. The firm initially represented Mr. Logan for injuries he sustained in 2005 while working overseas in Iraq supporting our military forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Due to the significance of his injuries, Mr. Logan was left in a severe, permanent, and totally disabling state that eventually resulted in him ending his pain in 2013. Mr. Logan left behind a grieving widow, Glenda, who struggled to keep the family farm after his death. Realizing her struggles, the attorneys at Doolittle & Tucker, P.A. sought death benefits under the Defense Base Act on behalf of Mrs. Logan as the surviving spouse of Mr. Logan. However, the undertaking would end up being nothing short of daunting.    

As with any complex litigation, it takes a team. In this case, Mrs. Logan, Senior Partner Paul Doolittle, his Certified/Registered Paralegal, Brittany Smith, co-counsel Michael Seelie, his paralegal, Beth Seelie, and two appellate counsel, Lara Merrigan (California) and Josh Gillelan (Washington, D.C.) battled the insurance company for three and a half years in a case that involved numerous depositions of witnesses, treating doctors, and experts in several different states, thousands of pages of documents and trial exhibits, and even an initial loss on a single issue based upon an unsound ruling from the judge. After appealing the decision to the Benefits Review Board, the judge’s decision was overturned, and Mrs. Logan, with the help of Doolittle & Tucker, P.A., ultimately prevailed.

As stated above, the DBA usually does not cover self-inflicted injuries or suicide. However, the attorneys at Doolittle & Tucker, P.A and team were able to prove that Mr. Logan’s suicide was the result of a “chain of causation” that originated from his work accident that resulted in traumatic brain injury and PTSD, thereafter causing Mr. Logan to fail to take psychiatric medications as prescribed (due to his illness), increase alcohol consumption, and ultimately, take his own life. Very few suicides are deemed “work related,” but this case proves that they can be won. Doolittle & Tucker, P.A. and team fought relentlessly for Mrs. Logan in a complex and expensive, yet incredibly sensitive case. After the win, Mrs. Logan was thankfully able to pay off that farm she struggled to maintain to the delight of everyone. 

Doolittle & Tucker, P.A. will continue efforts like these and continue to help the injured fight their battles against the insurance companies. If you have questions regarding the Defense Base Act, Longshore Act, or other types of injury claims, contact Doolittle & Tucker, P.A. today at 904-396-1734 or visit https://www.doolittletuckerlaw.com.