A Commonwealth Court panel has ordered that worker compensation death benefits be paid to a Pennsylvania widow who claimed her husband was literally worked to death.

The judges sided with Judith Dietz, who sought the death benefits for herself and her young child after her 48-year-old husband, Robert, died from a heart attack while working a 14-hour shift for the Lower Bucks County Joint Municipal Authority.

Pennsylvania Judicial Center

The Pennsylvania Judicial Center

Judith Dietz appealed to the court after the state Workers Compensation Appeal Board denied her plea for that aid. The appeals board concluded there wasn’t sufficient proof that the long, strenuous shift Robert Dietz worked on Nov. 7, 2007 caused his fatal heart attack.Judge Mary Hannah Leavitt disagreed in the recent Commonwealth Court opinion overturning the appeals board decision. There was plenty of proof that Robert Dietz’s heart attack was work-related, she concluded.

“The overwhelming circumstantial evidence…shows that exertion from (Dietz’s) regular work activities over the course of a 14-hour workday caused his heart-attack,” Leavitt wrote.

The municipal authority had argued that pre-existing health issues and a history of smoking, not Dietz’s physically demanding job as a field maintenance worker, prompted the heart attack. Dietz did that job, which involved running a jackhammer and other strenuous labor, for 20 years.

The distinction regarding whether the heart attack was job-related was important, because a link between a dead employee’s work and the death must be established for the surviving spouse to be eligible for workers comp benefits. For example, a widow with one child is entitled to 60 percent of the dead worker’s wages and up to $3,000 for burial expenses.

Although the authority presented medical testimony that Robert Dietz’s medical history made it likely he would have a heart attack even if he was not working, Leavitt gave greater weight to a doctor who testified for the Dietz family that the long, strenuous workday provided the fatal catalyst.

The Commonwealth Court ruling could be appealed to the state Supreme Court.

SOURCE: PennLive.com

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