FROM THE LABOR AND INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS COMMISSION
White ("Claimant") appeals the decision of the
Labor and Industrial Relations Commission
("Commission") denying workers' compensation
for the death of her husband, Ulysses White
("White"). White suffered a fatal cardiovascular
event while at work. Claimant contends the Commission erred
by applying the wrong burden of proof to claims under
sections 287.120 and 287.020 of the workers' compensation
statutes. This Court has jurisdiction over this appeal under
article V, section 10, of the Missouri Constitution. This
Court affirms the decision of the Commission because Claimant
failed to establish the accident was the prevailing factor in
causing the injury, as required by section 287.020.3(4).
White worked for ConAgra Packaged Foods for 24 years in
Marshall, Missouri. At the time of his death, White was
working as a machinist in ConAgra's machine shop making
parts for the production line. His job required him to
operate machinery such as mills and lathes. For safety
purposes, he was required to wear long sleeves, pants,
steel-toed boots, and a hard hat. The machine shop did not
have air conditioning, but, to cool the shop, fans were
brought in and the doors and windows were regularly left
temperature was extremely hot the week of White's death,
rising above 100 degrees on several occasions. Upon arriving
at work on the morning of June 30, 2012, White spoke with his
supervisor, who warned him to watch for signs of heat stress.
White then began working in the machine shop. Around 9:00
a.m., White walked to the waste water system pump to ensure
it was running properly after a scheduled power outage. After
doing so, White returned to the machine shop where he worked
until he took a 30-minute lunch break at 11:00 a.m. Around
11:45 a.m., a co-worker found White collapsed on the floor.
Despite receiving medical attention, White died later that
day. An autopsy revealed the cause of White's death was
"a cardiac arrhythmia resulting from severe coronary
time of his death, White possessed many of the traditional
risk factors for severe coronary artery disease, e.g.,
hypertension, dyslipidemia, history of smoking, lack of
regular exercise, poor performance on stress tests, and
cardiac enlargement. Despite these risk factors, White still
lived an active lifestyle and - in addition to his work - was
able to perform maintenance around his house and yard.
January 2013, Claimant filed a claim for workers'
compensation. At a hearing before an administrative law judge
("ALJ"), Claimant and ConAgra presented conflicting
expert witness testimony about the cause of White's
death. Claimant presented expert testimony from Dr. Stephen
Schuman, who opined the "work activities of 06/30/12
were the prevailing factor causing [White's] cardiac
arrest and death." ConAgra responded with the expert
testimony of Dr. Michael Farrar, who opined White "died
of sudden cardiac death related to the prevailing causes of
underlying severe coronary artery disease and hypertensive
heart disease, caused by traditional risk factors." The
ALJ denied compensation.
appealed to the Commission. The Commission affirmed the
decision of the ALJ with a supplemental opinion. In the
supplemental opinion, the Commission first determined White
suffered an accident because White's "death at work
was an unexpected traumatic event." Second, the
Commission addressed the issue of medical causation. In doing
so, the Commission answered the question of whether
"work was the prevailing factor in causing the alleged
accident." After weighing the expert testimony, the
Commission concluded Claimant had not met her burden of
establishing medical causation. The Commission relied on Dr.
Farrar's testimony in concluding White's work
activities were not the prevailing factor in causing his
cardiovascular event. The Commission was not persuaded by Dr.
Schuman's testimony because the Commission found he
"did not possess the necessary factual foundation to
support his theory."
appeal, this Court reviews decisions by the Commission to
ensure they are "supported by competent and substantial
evidence." Mo. Const. article V, sec. 18. The
Commission's decision will only be disturbed if: (1) the
Commission acted without or in excess of its powers; (2) the
award was procured by fraud; (3) the facts found by the
Commission do not support the award; or (4) there was not
sufficient competent evidence in the record to warrant the
making of the award. § 287.495.1, RSMo 2000. Decisions
involving statutory interpretation, however, are reviewed
de novo. Spradling v. SSM Health Care St.
Louis, 313 S.W.3d 683, 686 (Mo. banc 2010).
section 287.120.1, a claimant seeking workers'
compensation benefits first must show that the "personal
injury or death" of an employee was caused
an "accident." An "accident" for purposes
of section 287.120.1 is: (a) "an unexpected traumatic
event or an unusual strain;" (b) "identifiable by
time and place of occurrence;" (c) "producing
… objective symptoms of an injury;" and
(d) "caused by a specific event during a single work
shift." § 287.020.2 (emphasis added).
"Injury" means any "violence to the physical
structure of the body." § 287.020.3(5).
"'Death' when mentioned as a basis for the right
to compensation means only death resulting from such violence
and its resultant effects …." § 287.020.4.
when an employee is injured or killed due to a cardiovascular
event at work, the foregoing general framework is augmented
by a statute addressing such situations specifically. Section
287.020.3(4) provides that a death or other condition
resulting from a cardiovascular event "suffered by a worker
is an injury only if the accident is the prevailing
factor in causing the resulting medical condition."
§ 287.020.3(4) (emphasis added). Accordingly, such cases
are not exempt from the ordinary accident/injury rubric set
forth in section 287.120.1, and section 287.020.3(4)
addresses how that rubric is to apply in these special
simple slip-and-fall case, the accident and the
employee's injury usually are distinct and easily
identifiable. It can be harder, however, in cases involving
cardiovascular events. This case provides a good
illustration. The ALJ found that White's cardiovascular
event and death were the "injury" but concluded
Claimant failed to prove there was an "accident" as
defined in section 287.020.1 and .2. The Commission, on the
other hand, found there was an "accident" because
White's "death at work was an ...