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Family of Woman who Died at Desk Awarded Benefits

Claim FormA recent ruling adds further confusion to the question of what constitutes a workplace injury. When most of us think of a workplace injury or illness, images of someone straining their back while lifting a heavy object, falling from one surface to another, or even a machine part breaking off and striking a person come to mind.

A recent workers’ compensation case ruling puts another form of “workplace injury/illness” into the mix; the husband of a woman who died from a pulmonary embolism from sitting at her desk for more than 10 hours one night was awarded workers’ compensation benefits.

The woman worked from home, and had recently finished a long, sedentary shift at her computer. Although other risk factors such as obesity (over 300 pounds) and the use of birth control pills could have possibly contributed to the pulmonary embolism, doctors believed that the fatal blood clot developed due to her sedentary office position and formed while she was working.

“There’s an awful lot of people that do nothing but sit in front of computers for work these days, and there’s a certain risk involved with that,” said Patrick Caulfield, a lawyer for the family.

Needless to say, this case is something out of the ordinary in terms of workers’ compensation benefits.

“It’s a unique case because it pushes the envelope and it traces the fine line between activities of daily life versus those confined or restricted by the workplace,” said Gerald Rosenthal, co-chairman of the workers’ compensation committee for the American Bar Association.

This case, albeit not surprising, does bring into question what types of illness/injury can be attributed to working conditions. Many people in the United States have sedentary office positions; does this give precedent for those workers to be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits for illnesses related to a sedentary life? Are workers to be held accountable for their behavior outside of work? And if their jobs require long periods of inactivity, does that mean that workers are responsible for increasing their activity outside of work to reduce risk of disease from inactivity? Or should employers become responsible to mandate activity during long work shifts, such as mandating an aerobics class, or a 20 minute daily walk?

This ruling has caused shockwaves through the corporate world. In the past, incident rates were typically lower in sedentary jobsites; this case might just change all of that. What do you think?

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  1. Utterly shocking. This is system abuse and we can’t afford it. Want to know why we are suffering job losses in the U.S.? Look at systems that produce this kind of decision. Shame on the claimant. Shame on his attorney. Shame on the judge.

  2. Ian Waldron says:

    Without question, these controversial rulings can definitely send shock waves through the world of workers’ compensation. Besides the questionable actions of the claimant/attorney/judge, this kind of case opens up the employer to take responsibility for the health and habits of their employees. Whatever actions taken by the family or the judicial system are out of the employer’s control; what they can control is their ability to take preventive measures in the first place so that employees are healthier and at lower risk of injury and/or illness.

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