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Family of home-office worker who died not due comp death benefits


The family of a worker who died of a pulmonary embolism after working throughout the night in her home office is not entitled to workers compensation death benefits, the New Jersey Supreme Court has ruled.

AT&T Inc. employee Cathleen Renner, who primarily worked from her home office in Edison, New Jersey, worked overnight to finish a project on deadline in September 2007, court records show.

Before completing the project at 10:30 a.m., Ms. Renner complained of leg pain to her son at 7:50 a.m., and told a co-worker she wasn’t feeling well around 9 a.m., records show.

She called emergency medical services at 11:34 a.m. saying she couldn’t breathe, and she was pronounced dead upon arriving at JFK Medical Center in Edison, New Jersey, according to records. An autopsy revealed that she died of a pulmonary embolism, which can occur when arteries in the lungs are blocked by blood clots that originate in the legs or other parts of the body, records show.

Ms. Renner’s husband, James Renner, filed a dependency claim with the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development’s Division of Workers’ Compensation. According to records, the judge of compensation decided his claim was compensable. However, the Appellate Division reversed, “concluding that the judge had applied the incorrect standard to the facts presented.”

On remand, an internal medicine physician found that the “sedentary nature” of Ms. Renner’s work “was the precipitant in her getting a pulmonary embolism which resulted in her demise,” records show. The physician added that other risk factors would not have increased her risk of blood clots.

Another internal medicine physician, who testified for AT&T, said Ms. Renner’s risk factors — including “her morbid obesity; birth control pills; age; and enlarged heart” — contributed to the formation of the clot more than her “extended sitting for this project,” records show.

The judge of compensation reconsidered the evidence and decided in June 2011 that Ms. Renner’s death was a compensable event, as both physicians concluded her “work that evening and morning led to her death,” and because she led as active a life, “as one might expect of a mother of three teen children,” records show.

On appeal, AT&T argued that there was insufficient evidence, and on Wednesday the New Jersey Supreme Court agreed, reversing the judgment.

According to the ruling, Ms. Renner wasn’t required to remain seated for extended periods of time. “She was not confined to a specific space or instructed not to move from her workstation … She was free to take breaks, during which she could stand, stretch, leave her workstation for a bathroom break or refreshments, or briefly exercise. At home, nothing prevented Cathleen from conducting conference calls while standing or reclining,” the ruling states.

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