New Jersey: State High Court Says Telecommuter's Death Was Not Causally Related to Her Work

New Jersey: State High Court Says Telecommuter's Death Was Not Causally Related to Her Work

The Supreme Court of New Jersey reversed an award of workers' compensation death benefits to the surviving spouse of an employee who died as a result of an embolism she suffered after working through the night on a work-related project at her home.  The deceased employee, who had a telecommuting agreement with the employer, worked remotely several days a week. Computer records confirmed that she had worked through most of the night and that she completed her project approximately one hour before she called Emergency Medical Services in distress.  Ultimately, the judge of compensation awarded benefits, based on the surviving spouse's medical expert, who stated that the deceased employee’s work effort of sitting at her desk the day before and the day of her death contributed in a material degree to deep vein thrombosis and her death. The employer's expert disagreed.  The high court indicated the case turned on N.J.S.A. 34:15-7.2, which governs claims based on cardiovascular or cerebral vascular causes.  Any individual seeking compensation under the statute must prove by a preponderance of the credible evidence that the injury or death was produced by the work effort or strain in excess of the wear and tear of the claimant’s daily living [emphasis added]. The high court held that prolonged sitting, uninterrupted by breaks to stand, walk, or exercise, was not a condition compelled by the employee’s job. The fact that her hours were long, or that the job was driven by deadlines, added to its challenge, but the employee’s periods of extended sitting while conducting her professional responsibilities at her home office did not constitute a work effort or strain involving a substantial condition, event, or happening to support a compensable cardiovascular claim.

Thomas A. Robinson, J.D., the Feature National Columnist for the LexisNexis Workers’ Compensation eNewsletter, is a leading commentator and expert on the law of workers’ compensation.

LexisNexis Online Subscribers: Citations below link to Lexis Advance. Bracketed citations link to lexis.com.

See Renner v. AT&T, 2014 N.J. LEXIS 799 (July 30, 2014) [2014 N.J. LEXIS 799 (July 30, 2014)]

See generally Larson’s Workers’ Compensation Law, § 16.10 [16.10]

Source: Larson’s Workers’ Compensation Law, the nation’s leading authority on workers’ compensation law.

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