Do you spend a lot of the day sitting at your desk?  A recent Appellate Division decision, Renner v. AT&T, held that James Renner can receive weekly dependency benefits as a result of the fact that his wife, Cathleen, died of a pulmonary embolism due to the sedentary nature of her work.   

The Court noted that when Cathleen Renner worked from home, she would sit for long hours at a time to meet various deadlines imposed by her employer, AT&T.  The Court found that the level of inactivity involved with this prolonged sitting caused stasis of the blood resulting in the formation of a blood clot, as opposed to one of Cathleen’s other risk factors. Cathleen weighed over 300 lbs. and AT&T wanted to blame her death on her weight and other risk factors.   The autopsy report indicated the blood clot was fresh, meaning that something caused it within the timeframe Cathleen was working leading up to her death.

The insurance company’s own doctor admitted “it would certainly be less likely” for Cathleen to suffer a pulmonary embolism had she not been working that day.

The question for the appellate division to consider was whether the lack of movement at work was more severe than the level of inactivity in Cathleen’s daily life outside work, and whether the work activity caused the pulmonary embolism in a material way.  

The Court held that the inactivity Cathleen experienced was more severe than the level of inactivity outside of work.  There was substantial credible evidence in the record that Cathleen was fairly active outside of work, both around the house and caring for her children.    

The Court held that the sedentary work condition was the cause of the clot to a material degree.   Just because a person is overweight, doesn’t mean he or she is not entitled to the same rights and protections as anyone else.    It would be like saying that because a firefighter smokes he should be denied benefits for any breathing problems he develops from exposure to smoke and chemicals over a career.   

The reaction section to the article about the case on the Star Ledger’s website, NJ.com, entitled “Court rules husband of Edison AT&T worker who died from blood clot entitled to workers’ compensation,” features many comments expressing outrage that an overweight person is entitled to any benefits.   Significant medical evidence exists showing that sitting for an extended period of time can lead to this type of clot.  It is tempting to blame the cause of Cathleen’s death on her weight, but the scientific evidence says otherwise and supports the Court’s findings.   The Dependency benefits awarded by the Court are designed to compensate a spouse for the loss of a significant level of financial support.   This was a 25 year employee, wife and mother who died from a work related condition.  The insurance company’s own doctor admitted that Cathleen probably would not have died but for the prolonged inactivity directly caused by her work.   An important lesson to take from this is to remain active throughout the day by standing up and moving around your office periodically.

If you have developed an injury or medical condition that you feel is work related, please call us for a free consultation. We have experienced trial attorneys able to handle the complex legal issues that can arise in a workers’ compensation case.