New York: Extraordinary Duties at Grocery Store on Super Bowl Sunday Mean Employee’s Death is Compensable

A New York appellate court recently agreed with the state’s Workers’ Compensation Board that the death of a grocery store employee was causally related to the employment where evidence showed that the deceased ordinary duties were as a receiver, that he had been appointed acting store manager for Super Bowl Sunday, an historically busy day at the store and where he had a run-in with a customer some time prior to his fatal heart attack [see In the Matter of the Claim of Roberts v. Waldbaum’s, 2012 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 6336 (Sept. 27, 2012)]. The Workers’ Compensation Law Judge determined that decedent’s death was not causally related to his employment. On review, however, the Board reversed and the employer and its claims administrator appealed.

The appellate court initially noted that the Board’s determination of a causal relationship was not solely based upon the presumption contained within Workers’ Compensation Law § 21 (1), but that it also relied upon the medical evidence and testimony from the hearing. There was a disagreement between the experts. Claimant’s expert opined that decedent suffered from extensive cardiovascular disease and that he died from a myocardial infarction that was triggered by the stress and excitement resulting from the responsibility of running the entire store on Super Bowl Sunday, as well as decedent being involved in an altercation with an irate customer prior to collapsing. The employer’s expert found the same cause of death, but concluded that, if there was no evidence of significant work-related stress or aggravation immediately preceding decedent’s collapse, then decedent’s death was not causally related to his employment. It could be noted that the record indicated the altercation with the customer occurred hours before decedent’s death. The employer’s expert testified that, while uncommon, it was possible that an event that did not occur in close proximity to a myocardial infarction could still be a triggering event. The appellate court held, therefore, that despite evidence in the record that might support a contrary result, the Board’s decision supported by substantial evidence.

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