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Ohio court rejects comp benefits for widower of obese smoker

Ohio court rejects comp benefits for widower of obese smoker

COLUMBUS, Ohio—A widower failed to prove that a fatal heart attack suffered by his wife, a 317-pound clerk who smoked two packs of cigarettes a day, was work-related, Ohio's 10th Appellate District Court has ruled.

Tuesday's ruling in Deborah Davis vs. Marsha Ryan upholds a denial of workers compensation benefits sought by Thomas E. Davis.

Ms. Davis, a 5-foot-4-inch clerk for the Ohio Education Assn., died in 2005 after she found her usual handicapped parking spot blocked, so she parked in a lot a block from her work, court records show. She later was found unresponsive in her vehicle.

A death certificate stated she died of a heart attack.

Ohio's Bureau of Workers' Compensation denied benefits for her estate, administered by her husband. He appealed to the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas.

The bureau then moved for summary judgment, arguing that there was no causal connection between Ms. Davis' employment and her demise. The state agency pointed to testimony given by Ms. Davis' cardiologist in a separate personal injury case.

In that case, the doctor testified that Ms. Davis had a pre-existing heart condition and underwent coronary bypass surgery in 2004. He said she "was at risk for having a heart attack at any point" and he could not determine the heart attack's probable cause.

He said she suffered from multiple health problems, including hypertension, reactive airway disease, high cholesterol, diabetes and sleep apnea.

The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the bureau, finding that there was no evidence that Ms. Davis' death was “caused by anything other than natural deterioration from pre-existing physical conditions.”

On appeal, Mr. Davis argued that his wife's death could have been caused by overexertion as she attempted to walk from the parking lot and that her death arose from her employment.

The appellant court, however, found that Mr. Davis failed to present sufficient evidence that the heart attack was caused by work-related activity. It upheld the trial court's summary judgment favoring the bureau.