Court Releases AT&T From Paying Workers Comp Death Benefits for Telecommute Worker’s Family
On Wednesday, July 30th, the Supreme Court of New Jersey freed AT&T from paying a workers comp death benefits claim to the family of a telecommuting worker who died from a blood clot while working for 10 hours straight.
Cathleen Renner died in September 2007 from a pulmonary thromboembolism after sitting at her desk working for 10 hours straight. James P. Renner, Cathleen’s husband and now widower, filed a workers comp death benefits claim because, he argued, her sedentary work led to the blood clot and eventually her untimely death.
Cathleen Renner was a manager for AT&T, and spent long hours at her desk at home.
However, Supreme Court justices ruled that Renner could not prove that his wife’s death was caused by her job, although the position was inherently sedentary.
“Cathleen was free to move around at will during her work hours,” the opinion said. “Prolonged sitting, uninterrupted by breaks to stand, walk or exercise, was not a condition compelled by her job. The fact that Cathleen’s hours were long, or that the job was ‘deadline-driven,’ undoubtedly added to the challenge of her job. However, the fact that Cathleen sat for long periods of time in one position is not, under the facts presented, a component of her work effort or strain, as section 7.2 requires.”
Renner filed a dependency claim with the company’s workers comp insurance because his wife died after working hard through the night on a project required to be completed by morning. She barely stood or moved, he said, in order to complete her required assignment. Testimony from a physician showed that Cathleen’s blood clot likely formed 12 to 24 hours before her death, and that long periods of sitting contributed to her deep vein thrombosis.
An appellate court approved the workers comp death benefits claim in 2011, but AT&T appealed the decision to a higher court. The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled in favor of the company, claiming that Cathleen was free to get up and move around any time during her course of employment, which could have prevented the blood clot from forming and leading to her death.
“Unlike certain other occupations in which prolonged confinement in a cramped space is a job requirement, Cathleen’s responsibilities did not require her to remain in a seated position for long, uninterrupted stretches of time,” the opinion said. “She was not confined to a specific space or instructed not to move from her workstation … She was free to take breaks, during which she could stand, stretch, leave her workstation for a bathroom break or refreshments, or briefly exercise.”
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