Montgomery & Bucks County Workers' Compensation Law Blog

Friday, September 4, 2015

Court Orders Payment of Death Benefits; Widow Alleges Company Literally ‘Worked him to Death’

What are the options for a surviving spouse who has been denied death benefits from the PA Workers’ Compensation Board?

In one recent Bucks County workers’ compensation case, a widow proved that a denial by the Workers’ Compensation Board does not necessarily mean the end of the fight for survivors’ benefits – especially considering the fact she had a small child to care for following her husband’s death.

Earlier this month, the appealing party took her case to the PA Commonwealth Court after the WCB denied her claim for survivorship benefits on behalf of herself and her young daughter. According to the petition for relief, the survivor’s 48-year old husband died of a sudden heart attack after working a 14-hour shift at the Lower Bucks County Joint Municipal Authority.

After its review, the WCB denied her claim, concluding that there was insufficient evidence to link the long shift to the sudden, fatal heart attack. However, the Commonwealth Court came to the opposite conclusion, siding with the widow who contended her husband was literally worked to death.

In the court’s opinion, it referenced “[t]he overwhelming circumstantial evidence...[which] shows that exertion from (Dietz's) regular work activities over the course of a 14-hour workday caused his heart attack…” Moreover, the court highlighted the fact that the decedent was often required to work these lengthy shifts, and worked with a jackhammer for the Municipal Authority for over 20 consecutive years.

The court reviewed medical testimony that pointed to the decedent’s history of smoking as the root cause of his fatal heart attack. However, it gave greater weight to other medical testimony concluding that the final 14-hour work day was the fatal catalyst.

In Pennsylvania, surviving spouses and minor children may receive up to 60 percent of the decedent’s salary, plus $3,000. for burial expenses. In general, the surviving spouse must prove that the decedent’s employment caused his or her death, either due to illness or injury.

If you are considering a workers’ compensation action, please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Louis P. Lombardi, III, serving the Philadelphia metropolitan area, as well as Montgomery and Bucks Counties. We can be reached at 610-239-7600 or 888.818.4343.

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