Pulmonary embolism considered vascular, not occupational, disease
Case name: Renner v. AT&T, No. A-3237-09T3 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. 11/29/10, unpublished).
Ruling: In an unpublished opinion, the New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division held that a manager's pulmonary embolism was a vascular disease injury. It sent the case back to determine whether the injury was compensable under the vascular disease standard.
What it means: In New Jersey, a pulmonary embolism is considered a vascular disease injury rather than an occupational disease injury.
A 47-year-old manager worked from home three days a week and in the office two days per week. When she worked from home, she worked all hours of the day and night, and she sat at her computer for long hours to meet deadlines. One night, she was finishing a project from home and sent an e-mail to a coworker. One hour later, she called an ambulance because she couldn't breathe. She was pronounced dead when she arrived at the hospital. The cause of death was a pulmonary embolism. The manager's husband filed a claim for benefits. A compensation judge found that the manager's death was compensable under the occupational disease standard. On appeal, the New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division held that the pulmonary embolism was a vascular disease injury rather than an occupational disease injury. It sent the case back for a determination of the husband's entitlement to benefits under the vascular disease standard.
The employer admitted that the blood clot developed 12 to 24 hours before the manager's death, but it argued that the clot was not caused solely by her sitting at her desk. It contended that the compensation judge used the wrong standard and that the manager had a number of risk factors, including morbid obesity, an enlarged heart, and a sedentary lifestyle. The court noted that there are five common themes in occupational disease claims: 1) the employee is exposed to conditions that would be viewed as creating a likely risk of injury; 2) there is a continued exposure to the work conditions; 3) there is an inherent hazard of continued exposure; 4) the job has a hazard that distinguishes it from usual occupations; and 5) the claim is made because of long-term exposure. These themes were not present in this case. The court stated that the manager's flexible schedule at her desk job was similar to millions of other office workers and did not create a likely risk of injury. Additionally, the clot developed within hours of her death.
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January 13, 2011
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