By Anne-Marie L. Storey, Esq.
For those of you who attended our seminar at the Comp Summit on when an injury arises out of employment, here is another case along the lines of those we discussed. For those who were not there, this case addresses whether a death was work related. In this case, the court found that the employer literally worked the employee to death.
The employee was 48 years old and worked in field maintenance for a municipal water department in Pennsylvania. During a 14-hour shift, he suffered a heart attack and died. His widow sued for death benefits under the workers’ compensation system.
The state Board rejected the claim, finding no causal connection between the work and the death. However, the appellate panel disagreed. Finding that he frequently worked more than 40 hours a week and was “always on call”, the panel determined that the “demanding hours”, combined with physically demanding work over the course of 13 years was responsible for the heart attack. They rejected arguments that his pack-a-day cigarette habit and general stress were responsible.
Although this case was not in Maine, it is not too dissimilar from the recent decision in Sullwold, in which the Law Court upheld the work-relatedness of the employee’s death from a heart attack which occurred while he was walking on his treadmill at home. The facts that were found to support the work-related connection in that case included the following: although the employee was on a treadmill at the time of death, the injury occurred during work hours (he worked from home), at a place sanctioned by the employer, and while using a Blackberry provided by the employer; he had a lot of job stress, including a panic attack he had suffered as result of the stress; and the medical testimony was that the “longstanding, chronic, and relentless work stress” significantly aggravated and combined with the underlying heart disease resulting in sudden cardiac death.