In a prior post, we discussed Renner v. AT&T, No. A-3237-09 (App. Div. Nov. 29, 2010), in which the Appellate Division reversed the workers’ compensation judge’s decision to apply the occupational disease standard, N.J.S.A. 34:15-31 (“Section 31”), and award the husband of a deceased worker dependency benefits.  The deceased was a desk worker who died from a pulmonary embolism.  In reversing, the Appellate Division remanded the case to the workers’ compensation court to determine whether the petitioner could receive benefits under the standard controlling cardiovascular injury or death, N.J.S.A. 34:15-7.2 (“Section 7.2”).  On remand, the workers’ compensation judge found that the petitioner’s claim was compensable under Section 7.2  AT&T appealed, but the Appellate Division affirmed.  Renner v. AT&T, No. A-2393-10 (App. Div. June 27, 2011).

The petitioner’s wife, Cathleen, worked for twenty-five years for AT&T.  At the time of her death, Cathleen was a salaried manager.  When she worked from home, she would sit at her computer for long periods of time to comply with deadlines imposed by AT&T.  Despite having a “nine-to-five” job, Cathleen would work all hours of the day and night at home.

On the evening of September 24, 2007, Cathleen started working on a project at home.  Although the amount of time she worked on the project was disputed, she did send an e-mail to a co-worker at 12:26 a.m.  She was at her desk in her home office at 7:00 a.m.  Two hours later, Cathleen told a co-worker she was not feeling well but would keep working on the project.  After completing the project she sent an e-mail to a co-worker at 10:30 a.m.  One hour later she called 9-1-1 because she could not breathe.  When she arrived at the hospital she was pronounced dead; she died from a pulmonary embolism.

During the workers’ compensation proceedings the petitioner’s expert opined that that Cathleen’s sitting at her desk for long periods of time while working contributed to a material degree in causing her death.  AT&T’s expert opined that the embolism was caused by a combination of Cathleen’s risk factors.  The workers’ compensation ruled that the claim was compensable under Section 7.2 and that Cathleen’s inactivity at work was greater that her non-work inactivity.  Further, judge found that “Cathleen’s inactivity at work caused her pulmonary embolism in a material way.”

AT&T presented two arguments to the Appellate Division:  1) there was no evidence that Cathleen’s work strain or efforts exceeded the wear and tear of her non-work activities; and 2) there was no evidence that her work activities caused the embolism.  The Appellate Division rejected both arguments.

In doing so, the court explained that under Section 7.2 “the question is whether Cathleen’s lack of movement at work was more severe than her lack of movement in her daily living, and whether the inactivity at work caused her pulmonary embolism in a material way.”  Although the Appellate Division acknowledged that Cathleen led a sedentary life both during and outside of work, there was sufficient evidence in the record to support the workers’ compensation judge’s finding that her work inactivity was greater than her non-work inactivity.  The court also pointed out that there was sufficient evidence demonstrating that Cathleen worked throughout the night before she died; thus, the Appellate Division concluded that Cathleen’s work inactivity exceeded the wear and tear of her daily living.  The Appellate Division also concluded that there were sufficient evidence to support the finding that Cathleen’s inactivity at work, as opposed to one of her other risk factors, contributed to the causing of her pulmonary embolism in a material way.