LOIS LAWLESS, WIDOW OF PHILLIP LAWLESS JR., Claimant Below, Petitioner
WEST VIRGINIA OFFICE OF INSURANCE COMMISSIONER, Commissioner Below, Respondent and MET TRANSPORT, INC., Employer Below, Respondent
Appeal No. 2051789 (Claim No. 980008783)
Lois Lawless, widow of Phillip Lawless Jr., by Robert M.
Williams, her attorney, appeals the decision of the West
Virginia Workers' Compensation Board of Review. The West
Virginia Office of the Insurance Commissioner, by Noah A.
Barnes, its attorney, filed a timely response.
issue on appeal is whether Mrs. Lawless is entitled to
dependent's benefits. The claims administrator rejected
the claim on March 28, 2014. The Office of Judges affirmed
the decision in its December 28, 2016, Order. The Order was
affirmed by the Board of Review on June 8, 2017. The Court
has carefully reviewed the records, written arguments, and
appendices contained in the briefs, and the case is mature
Court has considered the parties' briefs and the record
on appeal. The facts and legal arguments are adequately
presented, and the decisional process would not be
significantly aided by oral argument. Upon consideration of
the standard of review, the briefs, and the record presented,
the Court finds no substantial question of law and no
prejudicial error. For these reasons, a memorandum decision
is appropriate under Rule 21 of the Rules of Appellate
Lawless, a fire boss, worked in the coal mines for almost
twenty years. On March 22, 1988, the Occupational
Pneumoconiosis Board issued findings. Mr. Lawless reported
shortness of breath for four to five years. Chest x-rays
showed fine irregular nodular fibrosis in a moderate amount,
which was the result of occupational pneumoconiosis.
Pulmonary function studies showed an FVC of 125% predicted,
an FEV1 of 130% predicted, and an FEV1/FEC ration of eighty.
The Occupational Pneumoconiosis Board found no permanent
impairment due to Occupational Pneumoconiosis.
Occupational Pneumoconiosis Board next issued findings on
October 8, 1998. At that time, Mr. Lawless had nineteen years
of exposure. He was a nonsmoker. X-rays were interpreted as
showing no change from the 1988 x-rays. Pulmonary function
studies showed an FVC of 118% of predicted, and FEV1 of 125%,
and an FEV1/FVC ratio of seventy-nine. The Occupational
Pneumoconiosis Board found 5% impairment due to occupational
notes from St. Luke's Hospital dated November 19, 1999,
indicate Mr. Lawless was admitted for dizziness, inability to
walk, and occasional shortness of breath. The initial
diagnosis was idiopathic syncope, chronic obstructive
pulmonary disease, hypertension, prostate carcinoma,
questionable chest pain, and a urinary tract infection. On
February 2, 2010, Mr. Lawless was again admitted to the
hospital. Treatment notes from Bluefield Regional Hospital
indicate he was admitted for dizziness and fainting. He was
diagnosed with low blood pressure likely secondary to
midodrine. An echocardiogram was normal. A chest CT revealed
a small pulmonary emboli. Mr. Lawless was transferred to
Roanoke Memorial Hospital on February 7, 2010. The discharge
summary lists the diagnosis as idiopathic severe symptomatic
February 22, 2012, Mr. Lawless was admitted to Bluefield
Regional Hospital for severe syncope. He was again diagnosed
with significant orthostatic hypotension. The discharge
summary indicated Mr. Lawless had a history of Shy-Drager
syndrome, which caused urinary retention.
notes by Todd Smith, D.O., dated May 8, 2012, indicate Mr.
Lawless had experienced weakness for the past five years in
his arms, legs, hands, and feet. He also had symptoms of
arthralgia, muscle atrophy, muscle tenderness and pain,
numbness, tingling, and urinary bladder dysfunction. However,
Mr. Lawless was not complaining of shortness of breath. He
was diagnosed with high blood pressure, high cholesterol,
rheumatoid arthritis, generalized weakness, and a frozen
shoulder. On June 5, 2012, Dr. Smith again noted that Mr.
Lawless reported no shortness of breath. He was diagnosed
with Shy-Drager syndrome.
department records from Princeton Community Hospital from May
16, 2012, indicate Mr. Lawless was treated for syncope. An
MRI of Mr. Lawless's brain showed moderate central and
cortical atrophy, bilateral mastoid air cell fluid consistent
with bilateral mastoiditis, and chronic ischemic changes in
the centrum semiovale. A chest x-ray showed mild chronic
obstructive pulmonary disease. A chest x-ray taken on July 4,
2012, was unremarkable.
Lawless was admitted to Princeton Community Hospital on July
5, 2012, for an altered mental status. He was diagnosed with
a urinary tract infection, dehydration, altered mental
status, thrombocytopenia, multisystem atrophy with autonomic
failure, and Shy-Drager syndrome. On discharge, Mr. Lawless
was more alert and conversive. He denied chest pain,
shortness of breath, cough, or productive sputum.
Lawless passed away on January 26, 2013. His death
certificate lists the cause of death as cardiovascular
arrest, chronic respiratory failure, and Shy-Drager syndrome.
Antonio Dy, M.D., performed an autopsy. His February 20,
2013, report indicates he obtained samples from both lungs.
He opined that the immediate cause of death was hemorrhagic
bronchopneumonia. There was also "distributed carbon
dusts of anthracotic pneumoconiosis with dramatic presence of
dense scarring, hyalinized nodules with distributed dust in
the sections of the lower lobe of the left lung. In addition,
the sections of the peribronchial lymph nodes revealed
prominent dust-laden microphages, hyalinized nodules, and
extension of dust into the surrounding periodontal soft
wrote a letter to Mrs. Lawless on May 13, 2013, describing
Mr. Lawless's autopsy slides. He stated that the lower
lobe of the right lung had advanced fibrosis in the form of
nodular hyalinized scarring due to pneumoconiosis, which is
more commonly known as black lung, due to his extensive
number of years working in a coal mine. The pneumoconiosis
combined with pneumonia resulted in Mr. Lawless's death.
reviewing the medical records, the Occupational
Pneumoconiosis Board determined that occupational
pneumoconiosis was not a material contributing factor in Mr.
Lawless's death on February 13, 2014. The claims
administrator denied ...