Administrative law – Decisions of administrative tribunals – Workers Compensation Boards – Survivor benefits – Significant cause of death – Judicial review – Compliance with legislation
Schulmeister v. British Columbia (Workers’ Compensation Appeal Tribunal),  B.C.J. No. 2321, British Columbia Supreme Court, October 29, 2007, C.E. Hinkson J.
In 1994, Mr. Schulmeister was seriously injured at work, including suffering a significant skull fracture, injury to his right optic nerve and impairment of his perception, as well as possible cognitive impairment. The Workers’ Compensation Board found he was permanently and totally disabled from working as a result of the accident. In October 2002, while on a hunting trip, Mr. Schulmeister was drowned. The Petitioner applied to the Board for benefits as a dependent survivor of her husband. Her application was denied by the Board on the basis that Mr. Schulmeister’s death did not result from his 1994 compensable injuries. The Petitioner sought a review from the Review Division of the Board, which confirmed the decision of the Board. The Petitioner then appealed the Review Division’s decision to the WCAT, which in turn, confirmed the decision of the Review Division.
The Court found that the relevant standard of review for the WCAT’s decision was patently unreasonable for a finding of fact or law pursuant to s. 58 of the Administrative Tribunals Act. Section 58(3) of this Act defined “patently unreasonable” to include, amongst other things, the failure to take statutory requirements into account.
The parties agreed that Policy Item No. 22.00 contained in the Rehabilitation Services and Claims Manual set out the principal policy in issue on this application. This policy indicated that “A claim will not be reopened merely because a later injury would not have occurred but for the original injury. Looking at the matter broadly and from a ‘common sense’ point of view, it should be considered whether the previous injury was a significant cause of the later injury”. The Court noted that there was evidence upon which the WCAT could properly conclude that Mr. Schulmeister’s cognitive or visual difficulties, or his problems with depth perception, played a role in the incident that led to his death. However, the WCAT engaged in a comparative or relative analysis noting that other factors far outweighed any significance to be given to the worker’s disabilities as a cause of the underlying events leading to the accident. As a result, the WCAT came to the conclusion that, from a common sense point of view, it could not be concluded that the 1994 injuries were a “significant cause” of Mr. Schulmeister’s death.
The Court held that the failure of the Panel of the WCAT to restrict its analysis to the question of whether or not Mr. Schulmeister’s compensable injuries were a “significant cause” of his death was a failure to properly take Board Policy Item No. 22.00 into account. While the Policy required a finding of significant causation before an injury or death can be considered a compensable consequence of an event, it does not require that the event be the most significant cause of the injury or death, or that other factors cannot play a greater role than the compensable injuries. The Court indicated that if the Board had intended to require that sort of weighting of causes, it would have clearly stated that a relative analysis was needed. Instead, it stated only that a cause must be a “significant cause” of a later injury before it could be basis for the reopening of a claim.
In the result, the Court held that the WCAT’s decision was patently unreasonable since the Panel failed to take the requisite statutory requirements into account and the decision of the WCAT was set aside and the matter remitted back to the WCAT for a rehearing.
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