Illinois Widow Gets Death Benefits after Husband Succumbs to Neisseria Meningitides Contracted on Brazilian Business Trip

In a decision that may provide some indication as to how the court might decide a claim involving Ebola exposure, an Illinois appellate court has affirmed a finding by the state’s Workers’ Compensation Commission that a business executive’s death from Neisseria meningitides arose out of and in the course of his employment where evidence tended to show that the executive died within a few days of returning home from a business trip to Sao Paulo, Brazil [see Omron Electronics v. Illinois Workers’ Comp. Comm’n (Bauer), 2014 IL App (1st) 130766WC, 2014 Ill. App. LEXIS 793 (Nov. 14, 2014)]. The executive had also spent time in China and Japan prior to his Brazilian excursion.

Medical experts testifying on behalf of the executive’s widow opined that international travel increased the risk for Neisseria meningitides infections, that “Sao Paolo is well known in the medical literature, as well as among infectious disease specialists, as an area where there’s an increased prevalence of Neisseria meningitides,” and that the endemic rate of the disease is 2 to 5 per 100,000 people in Sao Paolo versus 1 per 100,000 in the United States.

Incubation Period

The employer offered expert testimony that the incubation period for Neisseria meningitides was 2 to 10 days and suggested that the executive could have contracted the disease at another location. The employer contended that the award to the widow was based on the remote possibility that the executive had been exposed to Neisseria meningitides at some unknown time, in an unknown location in Sao Paolo, Brazil and that the widow did not show that the executive was exposed to a specific carrier of Neisseria meningitides or that he was in any crowded areas in Brazil where there might have been an increased risk of infection.

Possible Exposures

The appellate court disagreed, noting that the widow presented evidence indicating the executive had interviewed candidates for a general manager position, that he had traveled to the employment agency’s office, most likely by taxi, had stayed in a hotel, had eaten at a public restaurant (McDonald’s), and spent several hours at the Sao Paulo airport. The court noted also that the widow’s medical evidence suggested that the executive told doctors he had already developed respiratory problems before he become symptomatic of the meningitides (the executive’s symptoms included a horrible rash that showed up even on the palms of the executive’s hands). The widow’s expert said those circumstances would have most probably shortened the incubation period for the executive so as to put the initial contraction of the disease while he was in Brazil.

The court concluded that the Commission was charged with resolving conflicts in the evidence, particularly the medical evidence. It had done so and had made its findings on credibility. The Commission’s decision was not contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence.

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