Was a widow able to show that work stress triggered her husband’s fatal heart attack? That’s what she needed to prove to get workers’ comp death benefits.
The employee was a receiver at a Waldbaum’s grocery store.
However, he was assigned to be the acting store manager during the afternoon and evening shift on Super Bowl Sunday, 2007.
Being a fill-in store manager on one of the busiest days of the year is stressful enough. On top of that, an irate customer put up a fuss that the fill-in manager had to deal with.
At about 7 p.m. that day, the employee collapsed to the floor of the store and died soon after of a heart attack.
His widow applied for workers’ comp death benefits. A WC law judge ruled the employee’s death was not causally related to his employment.
The WC board reversed that decision and awarded the benefits. Waldbaum’s took the case to a state appeals court.
Is timing a factor?
Waldbaum’s noted that the confrontation with the angry customer occurred hours before the employee’s death.
An expert witness for the store argued significant work-related stress or aggravation had to occur immediately before the employee’s collapse for it to be considered causally related to work. Since the incident happened hours before the heart attack, the store’s expert testified that the comp claim should be thrown out.
An expert for the widow testified that the employee’s fatal heart attack was triggered by the stress resulting from the responsibility of running the entire store on Super Bowl Sunday as well as the argument with the customer. Therefore, there was a causal connection to work.
The appeals court upheld the WC board’s ruling that the widow should receive death benefits. The court noted the board relied on medical evidence and testimony to reach its decision and that the employer’s expert admitted it is possible for an event that didn’t occur right before a heart attack to be a trigger.
What do you think about the court’s decision? Let us know in the comments below.
(Roberts v. Waldbaum’s, Supreme Court, Appellate Div., New York, No. 513795, 9/27/12)