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Sullwold v. Salvation Army – Heart Attack at Home Deemed Compensable

In most cases, injuries that happen at home or are attributed to an internal, personal condition will not be compensated through workers’ compensation insurance. That’s because injuries must arise out of and in the course of one’s employment.
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However, the recent case of Sullwold v. Salvation Army, before the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, proves there are always exceptions.

The case involved a high-level executive for a non-profit organization who died of a heart attack while walking on the treadmill at home. Three factors made this case different than most others we might see in similar circumstances. The first is that plaintiff was given permission to work from home on some occasions, and this was one of those. The second is that although he was on a treadmill when he suffered the heart attack, he was working from his smartphone as he walked. And finally, his widow was able to produce evidence indicating the heart attack was caused in large part due to work-related stress.

Atlanta workers’ compensation lawyers recognize the absence of any one of these factors would likely have resulted in a denial of the claim for workers’ compensation death benefits. Every case is different, and that’s why it’s imperative to consult with an experienced attorney when deciding how best to proceed.

According to court records, decedent worked for the large non-profit firm for years, and at the time of his death, was responsible for overseeing some $2.5 billion in investments and financial interests for the organization.

Although he lived in Maine, the organization’s eastern division office was in New York City. Like a growing number of Americans, he was allowed to telecommute by working from home at times. The company supplied him a computer, a smart phone and other office materials.

On the day he died, he began his work day around 8:30 a.m. and continued for seven hours, until he took a break to walk on the treadmill, bringing his smart phone with him so he could continue working.

Although he never informed his doctor of any work-related stress, his doctor had told him he needed to improve his diet and get more regular exercise after he’d suffered another heart attack in the early 1990s. He was still receiving treatment for heart disease, and his wife and co-workers would later testify he was under a great deal of stress at work. He also was required to travel extensively, which often added to his burden.

Shortly before 4 p.m., his wife found him on the floor next to his phone, the treadmill still running. Emergency workers were unable to revive him, and he was pronounced dead.

His widow filed for workers’ compensation benefits, alleging her husband’s heart attack was the result of work-related stress. The board granted her petition, finding work stress was a major causal factor in decedent’s passing. The decision was affirmed at several levels before the organization appealed to the state’s highest court, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

Again, the decision was affirmed. The death occurred in the course of employment because, although employee was at home on the treadmill, he was in fact still working. Additionally, the death arose out of employment because work-related stress had played a significant role in causing the heart attack that killed him.

For information on Atlanta work injury compensation, contact J. Franklin Burns, P.C., at 1-404-303-7770.

Additional Resources:
Sullwold v. Salvation Army, Jan. 22, 2015, Maine Supreme Judicial Court
More Blog Entries:
Morales v. Zenith Ins. Co. – 11th Circuit Affirms Exclusive Remedy Provision, Feb. 10, 2015, Atlanta Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog