Decision #55/99 - Type: Workers Compensation
An Appeal Panel hearing was held on February 2, 1999, at the request of legal counsel, acting on behalf of the deceased worker's widow. The hearing was subsequently adjourned and reconvened on February 18, 1999. The Panel discussed this appeal on February 18, 1999.
Whether the worker's suicide is compensable.
That the worker's suicide is not compensable.
The worker, a truck owner operator, was involved in a motor vehicle accident (MVA) with a pick-up truck on January 21, 1994. As a result of the accident, the driver of the pick up truck was fatally injured. On July 15, 1994, the worker filed an application for compensation benefits claiming for left thigh, lower back and stress related injuries as a result of the MVA.
Initial medical information showed that the worker attended his general practitioner for treatment on January 24, 1994, regarding multiple soft tissue injuries including cuts and bruises. The worker was prescribed medication and was considered capable of medium work and was to avoid excessive bending.
On July 13, 1994, the worker sought treatment at a local hospital and the following is a summary of the report:
"42 year old separated white male from Wpg., no known psych history cc. "I took an overdose". Patient feels guilty from death of 46 year old male in MVA where patient was at fault, fell asleep at the wheel. Admits to feeling low since incident in January/94. Also arrived home July 10/94 to find furniture gone and wife left him. Over past few days drank ETOH, last night bought tranquilizers & took #40 of them. Patient called daughter, told her that he was going to die. Daughter called ambulance, patient brought to hospital within 1 hr. of O.D.. Denies ? symptoms of depression such as anorexia, weight loss, antedonia, low energy from past few months. Denies all psychiatric symptoms such as hallucinations, delusions. Admits to feeling low, guilty about recent death. Admits to suicidal ideation but denies intent and ? denies homicidal ideation, intent and plan. Mental status - good eye contact. Pleasant co-operative. Tearful at beginning of interview but recovered quickly. No psychomotor abnormality. Flow of thought - logical and sequential."
On September 26, 1994, a Workers Compensation Board (WCB) field representative obtained a sworn statement from the worker. The following are some of the questions that were asked by the field representative and the worker's responses:
- Q. "On what date did your family leave you?.
A. It was sometime in the beginning of July/94 before I stopped working.
Q. Is it possible that the reason you stopped working and tried to commit suicide, was because your family left you?
A. I had tried to commit suicide once before already, back in May/94 while I was on the road driving. I never went through with it that time nor did I tell anyone. I guess my finally having to stop work and trying to commit suicide in July/94, was a combination of both the accident and my family leaving me. My family leaving me was the final blow.
Q. When would you have seen a doctor or psychologist after seeing Dr. [name] back in February 1994.
A. I went to a counselor at the request of a friend either in late June or early July/94. This was just a counselor and not a psychologist. I can't remember the counselor's name. It was at a clinic on Henderson Highway, but I can't remember the name of the place. I just went the one time as it was very expensive. After being in Seven Oaks Hospital, I was referred to Dr. [name] (psychiatrist). I have seen her 3 times and I have applied for counseling that charges based on ability to pay or based on your income, but I'm on a waiting list.
Q. If you were having problems dealing with this accident all along, why did you wait so long to see a doctor again after seeing [family doctor's name] in February 94.
A. I thought I could deal with it and also because I was driving long distance, I never know when I will be back in town so it is hard to make an appointment.
Q. According to [the general manager] at [Co. name of final employer], the reason you gave them for quitting, was that your wife would leave you if you didn't stop driving long distance. Did you ever tell [the general manager)]that?
A. It was around August 1994 that I spoke to [the general manager] as I was trying to sell my truck. By then I had tried to get back together with my family and the one condition my wife had, was that I quit driving long distance and I told [the general manager] this when I spoke to him in August 1994. I never told him at that time that it was because of the stress of the accident that I had to stop working.
Q. What are you claiming from Workers Compensation?
A. I am claiming total disability due to the stress of the accident, since July 10, 1994. I know I can't return to truck driving because of how the accident affected me. I would hope that Compensation would re-train me for other work, as physically I am capable of working.
Q. Who is authorizing your time off work due to stress?
A. Dr. [psychiatrist's name] has authorized me to be off work. She had concerns that I was selling my truck too early and not giving myself enough time to get over this. I last saw her around the end of August, 1994 and nothing else has been scheduled yet, as I am trying to get into this counseling group.
Q. Any other stressors in your personal life besides what we have already mentioned (ie. Death in the family)?
On September 28, 1994, a statement was obtained from the manager of the accident employer. The manager stated in part that the worker never came out and said that the accident bothered him and he was not certain if the worker was upset over the accident or because his truck was written off or scared he might be fired. A friend of the worker came in and said the worker was very concerned that he might lose his job. "His being upset could have been a combination of all these things. The worker got another truck and returned to work March 17, 1994, and was let go after he damaged an expensive piece of equipment on April 24, 1994."
The WCB field representative spoke with a co-worker who was also a personal friend of the worker . He stated the worker was definitely having problems dealing with the accident. He described the worker as generally a quiet person. After the accident, the worker kept to himself and was very withdrawn. The worker never said anything about the accident and the co-worker didn't bring the subject up as he did not want to stir up bad memories. The worker's condition gradually progressed and by June 1994 he would easily break down and cry. The family later pulled out on the worker as he just wasn't himself.
On October 6, 1994, the above co-worker called the WCB indicating that the worker had committed suicide and that he was the executor of the estate. On October 7, 1994, the worker's widow filed an application for Surviving Spouse's benefits.
A statement was taken from the worker's widow on October 7, 1994. In part, the widow indicated that before the January 21, 1994, accident, the worker had never been in an accident involving his semi-trailer truck. When he phoned her from the United States he told her about the accident, but lied about the circumstances. From that point on their relationship got bad as he was very distant. The worker later became worse and he treated the kids badly by his not wanting to spend time with them. The worker did not have any patience. The widow stated "Eventually it got to the point where I left him in July and went to B.C. When I returned, he told me why. He felt lying to me was eating away at him. Prior to my leaving him, although he wasn't himself he returned to [the employer] because he wanted to drive, he felt he had a good job, and he was the bread winner which was important to him. After one month, he had another accident in which he damaged some machinery and lost his job. I couldn't believe this was happening to him. ....During the time he was unemployed he was very depressed. No one would hire him because of the two accidents. [Company name of the final employer] hired him about the middle of May, 1994. He didn't want to work for them but, he needed money so he took the job. His moods never changed when he took the job as this was just a job. He continued to be depressed but, he was happier when I came back to him after two weeks. At that time, he told me the truth about the accident about falling asleep. He told the truth as he tried to commit suicide on July 15, 1994."
The widow stated that the worker seemed better after talking to the psychiatrist but, he only went a few times as he could not afford to pay for the counseling. As the worker received counseling and seemed better, they reconciled and moved in together on August 27, 1994. After moving in, the worker stopped his counseling because he felt his life was together which is what his counselor said. The widow believed he was all right for the first couple of weeks. Then he moped around as he couldn't get work. She found he was getting more and more depressed.
On September 27, 1994, the widow stated that her husband and son were involved in a fight and that the police had been called. Later that same day the worker also fought with the widow's daughter over the use of the phone. The widow indicated that she obtained a restraining order the next day.
On September 29, 1994, the widow indicated that she had called the worker and arranged a meeting at the house where they discussed the house and bills. The widow then loaded a pickup truck with yard sale items to take to her sister's house. When she came back into the house to get her purse, the worker asked her whether there was any chance they would get back together. The widow answered no because of what he'd done to the children. After she unloaded the pick-up truck at her sister's house, the widow went back to the house and found the worker hanging in the basement.
On November 16, 1994, a WCB adjudicator spoke with two police constables who had found a letter written by the worker, dated September 29, 1994. From memory, the lead constable stated that the note dealt with the worker's disintegrating marriage, the worker's plans of leaving Winnipeg due to the disintegrating marriage, leaving the house for the wife and her children, his sorrow of the marriage not working out, and the problems associated with the kids. The constable indicated that as far as he could recall the note did not mention anything about a January 21, 1994, accident. He did say that the worker's wife specifically indicated that the worker's depression was due to the breakup of their marriage and the charges of assault against the worker for his assault occurred on the wife's son. The constable asked the worker's wife specifically about a MVA, however, the wife said the suicide had nothing to do with the January 1994, accident.
Prior to making a decision, primary adjudication received additional information from the worker's chiropractor, family physician, the attending psychiatrist, as well as, the Chief Medical Examiner's Office.
On February 22, 1995, the WCB determined that wage loss benefits were payable from July 11, 1994, to August 4, 1994, inclusive and final. Primary Adjudication further determined that the spouse's application for widow's benefits be denied as the weight of evidence established that the worker's death of September 30, 1994, was not related to the MVA of January 21, 1994. The following reasons were recited:
- the worker suffered from depression as a result of the MVA. A psychiatrist had pointed out that the worker's last appointment was July 21, 1994. At that time the worker promised no self-harm and he was given an appointment for August 4, 1994, which he did not keep. As a result, there was no medical disability beyond August 4, 1994. Therefore, it was appropriate to pay wage loss benefits for the period July 11, 1994, to August 4, 1994, inclusive.
- the worker's family life consisted of many problems which pre-dated the January 21, 1994, accident. It was established from file information that the worker's wife left him on many occasions in the past. Following further domestic problems in September, 1994, the wife left the worker once again. At that time, the worker committed suicide.
Based on the above reasoning, primary adjudication concluded that a cause and effect relationship had not been established between the worker's suicide and the MVA of January 21, 1994. The WCB concluded based on a balance of probabilities and based on the weight of evidence, that the worker committed suicide as a result of other domestic issues.
On February 19, 1996, legal counsel for the widow appealed the decision made by primary adjudication. He was of the view that the WCB's adjudicator, "did not fully appreciate the proper weight to be given to the information which was before him...". In this regard, legal counsel made reference to various reports that had been received from the chiropractor, family physician and the psychiatrist's report of November 22, 1994. In addition, legal counsel commented that the evidence clearly established that prior to the accident of January 21, 1994, the worker and his widow had lived in a very happy relationship for a period of five years and that there were no separations, contrary to what the adjudicator thought. As well, legal counsel contended that the worker's daughter misled the adjudicator, "as, contrary to what the adjudicator reports, there was no "history of domestic problems which pre-dated the January 21st, 1994 accident'".
Prior to its considering the appeal, the Review Office obtained opinions from the WCB's Consultant Psychiatrist, dated August 16, 1996 and January 9, 1997, and two reports from the chiropractor, dated September 19, 1996 and October 8, 1996. A Review Officer also spoke with the worker's closest friend.
On June 20, 1997, the Review Office determined that the worker's suicide was not compensable. The Review Office was of the opinion that for a claim for suicide to be compensable, it must be shown, on a balance of probabilities, that:
- 1. there was an injury by accident arising out of and in the course of employment; and
2. that the worker developed a mental disorder subsequent to the accident; and
3. that at the time of the accident, the circumstances of the accident were considered to have the inherent potential to cause a mental disorder; and
4. that the development of the mental disorder was a direct result of the accident; and
5. that the mental disorder was one for which suicide is a recognized consequence; and
6. that the mental disorder was the proximate cause of the suicide.
According to the Review Office, there was no debate that the claim met tests 1 through 5, inclusive. The outstanding question was whether the worker's "mental disorder was the proximate cause of the suicide" or was the worker's wife leaving him an intervening event breaking the chain of causation between the initial injury and the suicide. The Review Office commented that several days before the worker committed suicide, his wife left their residence following disputes the worker had had with her children. On the day of the suicide, the worker's wife returned to their residence at a pre-arranged time to remove some of her belongings. She rebuffed his attempts at a reconciliation, and when she later returned, the worker had committed suicide. "The psychiatric opinion is that the worker's compensable depression caused him to change his behavior in ways that altered his marital and family dynamics and led to him and his wife separating. They also indicated that the worker reacting to the separations by attempting and then committing suicide was a consequence of his depression."
The Review Office concluded that the proximate cause of the worker's committing suicide was his wife's leaving him and other family centered events. It considered, on a balance of probabilities, that there was no causal relationship between the suicide and the compensable accident. Test 6 had not been satisfied and thus the worker's suicide was not compensable.
On November 4, 1997, legal counsel for the widow appealed the Review Office's decision and requested an oral hearing. On February 2, 1999, an oral hearing was held at the Appeal Commission and was subsequently adjourned to February 18, 1999.
As the background notes indicate, the facts of this case are most unfortunate. Regrettably, the worker ended up taking his own life several months after having been involved in a motor vehicle accident while in the course of his employment. The deceased's widow brings forward this appeal claiming benefits as a result of her husband's suicide. Counsel acting on behalf of the widow, advanced the argument that the deceased's suicide was a direct result of his involvement in the motor vehicle accident on January 21st, 1994. "This accident had a profound effect upon Mr. [the deceased]. It pervaded his every thought. It made him unable to cope with day to day life, with his marriage and with a number of other circumstances." The WCB denied the widow's claim for benefits, on the basis that the suicide was non-compensable. It took the position that the proximate cause of the suicide was, in fact, a long history of marital difficulties, rather than the accident.
The deceased had been an owner-operator of a semi-trailer tractor and was engaged in long distance truck driving for a living. In the early morning hours of January 21st, 1994, he was driving in the northern United States when he fell asleep at the wheel of his truck. He failed to stop at a controlled intersection and struck another vehicle broadside. The sole occupant of this vehicle ultimately died as a result of injuries sustained in the collision. The deceased only suffered minor abrasions/contusions and was released from hospital shortly after having been treated. According to the police and hospital reports, the deceased appeared to be visibly shaken, following the mishap.
The deceased, upon his return to Winnipeg, was examined by a family physician on January 24th, 1994. According to a report provided to the WCB by the physician, "At no time during the interview did he exhibit signs of depression or of anxiety, neither were there clinical indications that he suffered from neurosis or psychosis." A subsequent office visit two weeks later resulted in an unremarkable clinical examination. In fact, the deceased advised that his pain was minimal and that he felt 90% recovered. As well, he had unilaterally discontinued his medication and commented that he was sleeping peacefully with no nightmares.
The deceased's truck tractor was a total write-off following the accident and, as such, he was unable to return to work until he had it replaced. Immediately upon receiving his insurance settlement, he purchased a new truck tractor and returned to work with the accident employer on March 16th, 1994, performing his regular trucking duties, such as tarping, strapping loads and driving long distances by himself. However, a little over a month later, the accident employer was forced to dismiss the deceased from its employ. The deceased had inadvertently damaged some expensive cargo, as a result of his failing to secure the load properly on the truck trailer. The accident employer had placed the deceased on three months probation following the first accident and now with this second accident, maintaining insurance coverage became a problem and thus the deceased was let go. Not quite one month had passed, before the deceased hired on with another transport company, driving long hauls in both Canada and the United States. This job lasted until July 11th, 1994, when he voluntarily stopped working.
The deceased had returned to Winnipeg from a long distance trip on July 10th, 1994, and discovered that his wife and family had moved out of the marital home. The next day, he failed to report to work with his employer. According to the employer, the reason given for the deceased's not coming back to work was because his wife had threatened to leave him if he didn't stop long haul driving. Over the next few days, the deceased drank heavily. He consumed a quantity (40) of unknown over the counter sleeping tablets and then called his daughter from a previous marriage to tell her that he was going to die. The daughter stated her father was drunk and crying. He said that his wife had left him again and that he had come home to an empty house. She then called emergency and the deceased was admitted to hospital on July 13th,1994, of an apparent overdose. On July 15th,1994, the deceased filed a claim with the WCB asserting that he was suffering from stress as a result of the January motor vehicle accident.
Sometime after the attempted suicide, the deceased and the widow began a process of reconciliation. Part of this process involved the purchase of what the parties called their "dream home". Several weeks were spent fixing up this house while both parties continued to live in separate residences. On or about August 27th, 1994, they moved in together into the newly refurbished house. The attempted reconciliation was short-lived. A serious physical altercation arose between the deceased and two of the widow's children. The police became involved and charges of assault were laid against the deceased. For the fourth time in their marriage and for the second time in less than three months, the widow once again moved out. The widow attended at the Law Courts and obtained, what was described to the Appeal Panel, as a non-molestation order. This document or order was ultimately served on the deceased.
The deceased provided a statement to the WCB three days prior to his suicide. In the statement, the deceased talked about the stress he was under. But, he denied ever having told his final employer about his stress level or why he had to quit working. "I never said anything to the employer about the stress I was under and I never told them why I had to stop working, when the stress was getting to be too much." He also spoke about the reasons for quitting work and attempting to commit suicide. "I guess my finally having to stop work and trying to commit suicide in July 1994, was a combination of both the accident and my family leaving me. My family leaving me was the final blow."
The widow made arrangements to meet with the deceased at their residence on the day he committed suicide in order to retrieve some of her belongings. She recounted this meeting in a statement given to the WCB eight days later. "On September 29th, 1994, I called him during the day. I said I'd be here at 5:00 p.m. He asked me not to bring anybody but, I told him I'd bring [name of a girlfriend] and [name of daughter] which I did. We came here at about 5:15 p.m. And we discussed the house and bills. I loaded the pick-up with yard sale items to go to my sister's. I came back into the house to get my purse. He grabbed me from behind and said, 'You know I love you'. I said, 'I know' and he asked if there's any chance we'd get back together. I said no because of what he'd done to the children. I told him we could be friends and he could write."
A short while after this meeting the widow returned to the house and discovered the deceased's body. A letter, dated September 29th, 1994, was also uncovered. The widow could not recall seeing this note at the time of her first visit. We regard certain portions of this letter dramatically reveal many of the major concerns which pre-occupied the deceased's mind on the day he committed suicide. "I'm sorry things have got to this again, and I don't want to be a problem to you anymore. Your coming to the house is the only change (sic) I'll have to give you this note or letter as you won't extend the courtesy of talking to me. You know that I Love you and will continue to Love you. Sure we have both had troubles in our lives. ... But at no time did I turn my back on you. There were other times when you got so mad at the Kids when I was home and I helped you get cooled down. You know I'll do anythink (sic) for you. So If you really want me totaly (sic) forever out of you (sic) life I'll Leave Winnipeg and let you be. I was hoping to be able to talk to you in person about this but it seems you don't want to talk to me. Seeing you don't want to talk if you leave me the Truck I'll take it that you want me to leave town. Besides this was your deam (sic) home, mine to (sic) as long as you were apart (sic) of it but with out (sic) you my dream home would not be complete I don't want to leave but being here in Wpg would only make it harder on me to not want to see you. But seeing you feel its over forever between us why stay around. I'm real sorry your kids never did like me as it has made it very hard fore (sic) us to be together. It just seems that any thing I've done for them was never appreciated or at least not for very long."
Legal counsel for the widow called several witnesses, including the treating chiropractor, to give testimony about the deceased's character and demeanor, both before and after the January 21st, 1994, accident. Prior to the accident the deceased was regarded as a happy go lucky individual, a big joker who never took too much seriously. One witness described him as, "He was very easygoing, fun to be around. He liked to laugh a lot and joke around and he was just an all right person, easygoing." Following the accident this same witness noticed a dramatic change in the deceased. "He became very withdrawn, very -- he seemed depressed. Like he just wasn't his jovial self anymore. He didn't really seem to have much ambition to do anything." Similar types of comments were largely echoed by the other witnesses.
The widow also testified about her husband's behavior prior to the accident with respect to their relationship. "And we got along fine. The only thing was with the kids. We had disagreements, because I'm easygoing and he's from the old school, really strict." Following the accident, she noticed a change in the deceased's mood. He was ... "unhappy, didn't sleep at nighttime and he was always like jumping, just not himself, thinking all the time." In her statement of October 7th, 1994, to the WCB, the widow concluded by saying: "I feel everything that happened stems from the January 21st, 1994, accident. He just became a different person. He became depressed and had no goals. He was very angry inside. He needed to work as a driver but, he was black balled due to the accidents. This frustrated him. There was no other stress in our lives that I'm aware of."
The manager of the accident employer expressed his opinion that the accident naturally appeared to shake up the deceased. However, he wasn't entirely certain whether the deceased was just upset over the incident or whether it was the fact his truck had been written off and that he might be fired. "There was no doubt that he was shaken up at the time, which would be normal for anyone. He was talking more and appeared to be very nervous. He never came out and said that the accident bothered him and I wasn't certain if he was upset over the accident or because his truck was written off or scared we might fire him. I know [name of friend] came in and said [the deceased] was very concerned he might lose his job. His being upset could have been a combination of all these things. [The deceased] got another truck and returned to work March 17th, 1994, and was let go after he damaged an expensive piece of equipment on April 24th, 1994. During that period that he worked again, he appeared to be on the nervous side. I thought he was slowly starting to recover from the accident, but then he had this other accident and we had to let him go. His work was okay during that short period he was back with us and he wasn't missing any time from work, nor could he afford to though, as he had financed a new truck that he had to make payments on. He never did verbally say that he was being troubled by the motor vehicle accident, but I could tell it was bothering him, or at least part of what was bothering him."
It later became apparent that the deceased had given a false statement to the state police with respect to how the accident occurred. In his statement, the deceased said that he was adjusting the defroster to his right and hadn't noticed the fast approaching intersection until it was too late. The deceased eventually admitted that he had, in fact, actually fallen asleep at the wheel. This admission came to light just around the time in July when the deceased stopped working and when his wife had left him.
According to an interview with a psychiatrist on July 14th, 1994, following his attempted suicide, the deceased advised that he had ... "arrived home July 10th, 1994, to find furniture gone and wife left him." That same day, which was a Sunday, the deceased frantically tried to find the whereabouts of his wife. One of the widow's friends, who was called as a witness, testified about her encounter with the deceased on that particular day: "I think it was July, yes. I was camping in the Whiteshell at White Lake. My son has a trailer there. And I think it was, it might have been on a Sunday, I can't remember for sure, [the deceased] showed up there. And he said that him and [the widow] had split up and he was hoping that she was with me and that's why he had come out there, but she wasn't with me."
As well, on or about July 10th, a second witness, who had previously worked with the widow a couple of years prior to 1994, received a telephone call from the deceased. The witness testified that the deceased was not in the habit of calling her and that she found it kind of odd he wanted to speak to her. "He called me because he was looking for [the widow] and he had just got back off the road and he was looking for [the widow] and he didn't know where she was, and he asked me if I knew where she was. So that's what he was calling to find out."
The deceased stopped working on July 11th, 1994. His general manager gave a statement to the WCB on October 20th, 1994. He was asked what reason was given by the deceased for not returning to work. He replied: "About an hour after he returned on July 11/94, [the 10th ?] [the deceased] called me from his home. He asked if we had heard from his wife, as his house was cleared out, it was empty. We didn't know. The next day he called again and said he couldn't drive as he had to get this matter straightened out with his wife. He offered us the service of his truck, as he didn't know how long it would take to straighten this out with his wife. I next heard from him a few weeks later when he came back and started out on a trip. He left on a trip, but only got out about 30 miles when he called and said he couldn't make the trip and was coming back. When he got back to the yard he broke down and was crying. He was talking about the problems with his wife, and he was still trying to get things worked out with her. It was around the end of August 1994 [the deceased] came for his final cheque and to take his truck. It was my decision to take his truck off the road, as it didn't pay to keep paying insurance on a truck that wasn't being used all the time. He seemed to be in a lot better shape than he was a couple of weeks earlier. He never mentioned anything regarding his situation with his wife. That was the last we heard from him. He was a reserved type of fellow when we hired him. His personality didn't change at all that I could tell until he found out his wife had moved out. Up until then he was easy to get along with and never complained about anything."
In the middle of March 1994, the deceased and his wife jointly purchased a brand new Volvo truck tractor for $116,500.00 inclusive of taxes. The deceased used part of his insurance settlement as a down payment. Interest and finance charges less the down payment left a deferred balance payable of $122,495.00 which was to repaid in 54 installments. The first three payments were in equal amounts of $2135.95 each commencing on May 1st, 1994, the fourth installment of $9289.74 was payable on August 1st, and the remaining 50 payments of $2135.95 each, starting on September 1st, 1994. The widow acknowledged that the truck payments fell into arrears after the deceased stopped driving. A copy of a bill of sale, dated September 10th,1994, for the truck was submitted in evidence at the hearing. It was signed by the deceased and the purchaser, presumably on the same day as the date on the bill of sale. It was later signed by the widow on September 29th, 1994, during the time that the police were investigating the suicide. The widow testified that she was aware her husband had made a deal to sell the truck. The sale price was for basically what was outstanding on the loan. There was no recovery of any equity.
The deceased and his wife took on another long term debt obligation when they purchased the house in August of that year. A small down payment of $2000.00 was made and the balance of the purchase price was financed by way of a mortgage. We note that the deceased did not actively seek employment during the months of August and September.
There is a memorandum on file, dated November 16th, 1994, which details the interview of the police constable who investigated the deceased's suicide, by a WCB representative. The constable recalled to the best of his recollection the following points of discussion that he had had with the deceased's wife at the time of the suicide:
- She advised that her husband never showed any signs of depression and was not taking drugs or alcohol;
- She mentioned that her husband quit work in July 1994 and following their breakup in July 1994 he attempted suicide by taking gravol and alcohol;
- She specifically indicated her husband's depression was due to the breakup of their marriage and the charges of assault against him involving her son, logged under incident # 198740;
- She also mentioned her husband had tried to discipline her son, however, she had always fought him with respect to the discipline approach;
- He specifically asked the deceased's wife about a motor vehicle accident, to which she responded by saying that the suicide had nothing to do with the January 1994 accident.
The constable concluded his interview by saying that he got the impression there was not much of a marriage relationship between the deceased and his wife.
The widow was questioned at the hearing about the conversation she had with the police constable. She confirmed that she did have a conversation, but she couldn't remember anything that she may have said to him. "No. You know what, I don't remember what I said to him, okay? He could put anything there, I don't know, because I don't remember having a conversation. Like I just remember that they came and I couldn't go downstairs. I remember them being in my living room. I remember going to the hospital and coming back and they were still there. Like I don't remember."
In direct examination, counsel asked the widow to recall the altercation that took place between her son and the deceased.
- Q. How did he attack [name of son]?
R. Had his hands around his throat and he was trying to kill [name of son]. So I was just like and [name of daughter] just sat there too. And then he kept on and it went from the sink to the cupboard. And I grabbed him, trying to make him stop, and then it hit [name of daughter] and [name of daughter] helped to try to get [the deceased] away from [name of son]. And it ended up all the way down to the basement. And finally I got [the deceased]. I got him, [name of son], away, and [name of son] ran away."
There is some contradiction in the evidence as to exactly when this altercation took place. According to the constable investigating the suicide, police records indicated the event occurred approximately one week prior to the deceased's taking his own life. Whereas the widow testified that she was absolutely positive the fight took place on September 27th, 1994, and that the police were called.
There is no question that the gravity of the motor vehicle accident weighed heavily on the mind of the deceased. His feelings of remorse over accidentally taking another person's life were significant. However, we do not consider these feelings were so overwhelming that they led him to commit suicide. We feel there were other far more significant factors which contributed to the deceased's eventual demise. The attempted reconciliation with his wife in July resulted in his quitting a job which he loved, in his falling into arrears on his truck payments, in his taking on a further financial obligation by purchasing a house, in his having to sell his new truck at a loss and thus losing his only means of maintaining a livelihood. But, the foremost factor was the threat of losing his wife forever.
There were, without question, many stormy episodes over the course of the brief six year marriage between the deceased and his wife, but after each and every argument and period of separation there was always a restoration of harmony. However, in September of 1994 an unfortunate event occurred, after which, in the mind of the widow, there could never be any possibility of reconciliation. Here was a man, consumed with love for his wife, having to deal with the harsh reality that his marriage was finished. This was too much for him to bear and he became desperate. Tragically, his reaction was fatal.
After taking into consideration all of the evidence and oral testimony, we find, on a balance of probabilities, that the worker's suicide was not a consequence of his January 21st, 1994, accident and therefore it is not compensable.
R. W. MacNeil, Presiding Officer
A. Finkel, Commissioner
R. Frisken, Commissioner
Recording Secretary, B. Miller
R. W. MacNeil - Presiding Officer
(on behalf of the panel)
Signed at Winnipeg this 7th day of April, 1999