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Workers' Comp Denied for Spouse of Sales Manager Working From Home

September 9, 2011
Related Topics: Workers' Compensation, Latest News
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The spouse of a sales manager who died several days after being found unresponsive in his home office is not entitled to workers compensation benefits, a Pennsylvania appellate court has ruled.
Court records in Donald Werner, Deceased vs. Workers' Compensation Appeal Board show that Werner split his time working at a home office in his basement and at his employer's facility when he wasn't traveling.
On March 8, 2007, Brenda Werner returned home and found her husband at his home office desk unresponsive and with a nosebleed. After his death, Ms. Werner filed for workers' comp benefits and claimed that Mr. Werner sustained a work-related injury—a massive intracranial hemorrhage—that led to his death.
Werner's employer, Greenleaf Services Corp., denied the claim.
In court, Ms. Werner testified that she believed her husband fell at the front entry to the house because there was blood on the sidewalk and his glasses were off to the side. Blood also was found in other areas of the home.
She also submitted evidence indicating that blunt force head injuries caused Mr. Werner's death and submitted copies of emails showing her husband had been working the day he was found unresponsive.
But a workers' compensation judge and the Pennsylvania Workers' Compensation Appeal Board found Werner was not acting in the course and scope of his employment when he was injured.
Challenging the appeal board's ruling before the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania, the claimant argued among other things that while Mr. Werner may not have been actually engaged in work-related activities at the precise time he was injured, his injury nevertheless was compensable under a "personal comfort" doctrine.
The doctrine holds that an employee who sustains an injury during an inconsequential departure from work during regular working hours, such as going to the bathroom, is considered to have sustained an injury in furtherance of the employer's business, court records state.
As an example of when the personal comfort doctrine applies, the state appellate court cited the case of a claimant who was working from home, but drinking a glass of juice in her kitchen, when her supervisor called. She fell while descending the stairs to her basement office while on the telephone with the supervisor and injured her neck.
In that case, the claimant clearly was engaged in furthering her employer's business, the court said.
But regarding Ms. Werner's claim, little is known about how or where Mr. Werner was injured, the court said.
"Perhaps more importantly, even if the cause, location and time of decedent's injury were established, there is nothing in the record demonstrating what decedent was doing when he was injured," the court said in upholding the lower court's rejection of the claim. "Claimant's proffered explanation that decedent slipped and hit his head while outside smoking a cigarette—attending to his personal comfort—or retrieving business mail is speculative at best."
Filed by Roberto Ceniceros of Business Insurance, a sister publication of Workforce Management. To comment, e-mail editors@workforce.com.
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