Bill was employed by ABC Widget Manufacturing Company. He suffered a work injury to his elbow and was given light duty work. His condition improved and he subsequently returned to regular duty work. One day, Bill was given a letter by his employer and was sent home. The letter informed Bill that ABC had received a letter from Bill’s lawyer indicating that Bill could not perform any type of manual labor. The letter also stated that ABC was under the impression that Bill would not come back to work unless he was physically able to do so and that when he showed up for work, ABC assumed that Bill was able to perform regular work. The letter from ABC stated that Bill’s lawyer was stating that Bill was not able to work. So, rather than risk further injury, ABC insisted that Bill secure a doctor’s report indicating what type of work Bill was capable of performing.
Bill obtained a note from Dr. Bombay stating that Bill could not work. Bill intended to give the letter to Ramona in the H.R. Department at ABC. But before Bill could bring in the note from Dr. Bombay, Ramona phoned him and told Bill that he did not need to bring in the doctor’s note. Ramona also told Bill that he would be receiving a letter from ABC. The next day, a Friday, Bill received the letter from ABC terminating his employment.
Bill was understandably upset. He and his wife, Samantha, spent that weekend discussing the fact that he had been fired and its effect on their finances. During this time, Bill was unable to eat or sleep. He walked about his house reading the letter over and over again. Samantha went to work the following Monday. When she returned home from work, Bill was sitting at the kitchen table, reading the letter over and over again. Bill then got up from the table and collapsed to the floor. When the paramedics arrived at the home, the ambulance driver and police had to pry the letter from Bill’s hand. Neither the paramedics at the home nor at the hospital were able to revive Bill, and he died that day.
QUESTION: Will Bill’s death be considered “work-related” and subject to payment of benefits for a work injury under the Pa. Workers Compensation act?
Answer: Most likely, no. As always, a legal determination depends on the facts of the case as applied to the pertinent caselaw. Pennsylvania courts have determined that employers may have legitimate reasons for terminating an employee that are unrelated to a potential workers’ compensation claim. The question then follows as to whether the Workers Compensation Act intended employers to bear the risk of a compensable work injury that may follow such termination and is a consequence of the termination decision, even when that consequence bears no relationship to employment responsibilities and does not occur until after the cessation of the employment relationship.
Based upon the fact that Bill sustained his fatal heart attack two days after he was terminated, and based upon the lack of any expert medical evidence indicating that a causal connection exists between his actual employment and the onset of his heart attack, it will likely be determined that Bill did not sustain a work injury that would entitle Claimant to benefits under the Workers Compensation Act.
If you’ve suffered a work injury and have questions about your claim, contact me at [email protected] or call (570) 347-1011 for a free consultation.
Disclaimer: The above article is for instructive purposes only and each case is fact sensitive. Consultation with an attorney should be obtained instead of reliance upon the legal issues discussed in this column.