Spouse of Worker Found Dead in Home Office Denied Benefits

September 6, 2011 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - A Pennsylvania appellate court has ruled 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.

Business Insurance reports a worker’s compensation judge and the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board found Donald Werner was not acting in the course and scope of his employment when he was injured. His wife testified she believed Werner 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.   

According to Business Insurance, she also submitted evidence indicating that blunt force head injuries caused Werner’s death and submitted copies of e-mails showing her husband had been working the day he was found unresponsive. Werner’s wife argued among other things that while 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.   

Business Insurance explained the doctrine holds 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 court said, the claimant clearly was engaged in furthering her employer’s business, the court said, but in the Werner case, little is known about how or where Werner was injured.   

“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, according to the news report. “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.”