The doctor who performed the autopsy told his family that Jeff Thompson died of a bleeding ulcer due to severe stress. But according to those who knew him, Mr. Thompson was killed by the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board.
While working for a cable installation company, Mr. Thompson injured his right knee in 2004 when he slipped and fell. He never fully recovered, and spent the few remaining years of his life nearly completely bound to his North Middlesex County home, arguing his workers compensation claim with the board.
Mr. Thompson's family received notice Monday that the WSIB will pay his burial expenses. However, it remained unclear whether it will accept any liability in his death, or address concerns his family has raised about how injured workers are treated throughout the claim process.
"I don't want other families to go through this, I want to be able to show that my brother had a legitimate injury and nobody needs to be spoken to and treated the way he was," said Colleen Mathers, Mr. Thompson's sister.
The family has requested an inquest, and has been waiting for the WSIB to release his files since his death on Feb. 10.
John Slinger, chief operating officer of the WSIB, said that it is against board policy to discuss individual cases publicly, but that he couldn't recall any cases in which the board was held responsible for the death of a worker due to stress.
According to advocacy groups, injured workers often suffer from depression and anxiety associated with the difficulties of filing a compensation claim. The extensive paperwork and medical documents required provide tools for board adjudicators to identify fraud, but can also discourage legitimate claims and distress workers who are vulnerable.
Data collected by the Ontario Federation of Labour indicate that the percentage of claims that are abandoned has more than doubled over the past 15 years.
"It's a huge shock to them how much they're distrusted, and even more than that, there's nothing they feel they can do to advance their cause because even their family doctor won't be listened to in many cases," said David Wilken, a staff lawyer for the Industrial Accident Victims Group of Ontario.
As the pain in Mr. Thompson's knee persisted, and he was unable to stand, sit or sleep comfortably, his WSIB adjudicator threatened to stop his benefits.
"It became all he would talk about," Ms. Mathers said. "He went crazy trying to prove himself, to prove his pain. We became really worried about him."
The adjudicator threatened to end his benefits when Mr. Thompson didn't comply with the "labour market re-entry plan," which required him to attend classes in London, 120 kilometres from his home. Mr. Thompson was taking morphine daily, and found that driving aggravated his pain.
Ms. Mathers said her brother filed forms and doctors' notes to support his claims that he wasn't well enough to drive or attend classes, but that his adjudicator continued to threaten to cut or remove his benefits. The burden of defending the severity of his injuries and the financial strain of living off his shrinking benefits seemed to age her brother overnight, she said.
The day after Mr. Thompson died, a letter from the WSIB arrived at his home. It was notification that his benefits had been cut by 50 per cent.
"That would have killed him just to have seen how little he was going to get," Ms. Mathers said.