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Workers' compensation dispute centers on risk factors of death

The husband of a woman who died while working from home has been awarded workers' compensation benefits. The wife, an AT&T employee who worked from her home office three out of five days a week, died when a main artery in her lung was blocked. Doctors believe the blockage was likely caused by a blood clot that started in her leg.

Medical evidence presented showed that the phone company employee, who weighed more than 300 pounds, worked in a job that minimized her blood circulation. A lack of blood flow due to inactivity can increase the chances that life-threatening blood clots can form.

Doctors reported that the woman's lack of movement, caused by sitting constantly, was a factor in the blood clot forming. The worker's death was attributed to a clot that traveled from her leg to her lungs, blocking an artery.

AT&T argued that the woman was obese, had already been diagnosed with an enlarged heart and had recently begun taking birth control pills. They believe that her husband should not be awarded workers' compensation benefits because these factors can increase the risk of blood clot formation.

Was the woman's pre-existing medical condition more responsible for her death than her work? An appellate court decided that the husband had presented enough specific evidence to prove that his wife's death was related to the type of work she did, agreeing that the sedentary nature of her job contributed directly to her death.

Legal experts say the case may or may not be a precedent for future workers' compensation benefits' disputes when employees are injured or die in work-related activities in their own homes. Legal observers said the medical details involved in this particular court ruling were very case-specific.

Source: New Jersey Newsroom online, "Husband of obese N.J. woman who died at her desk awarded workers comp benefits," Bob Holt, 29 June 2011

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