Employee’s death due to overwork, rules court

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A Pennsylvania widow has won the right to compensation after an appeals court ruled her late husband’s death was in fact caused by strenuous labour and excessive working hours.

As a water department maintenance worker, Robert Dietz routinely logged more than 40 hours a week and was always on call – after his untimely death, Dietz’s widow sought compensation.

According to court records, Judith Dietz and her minor child were seeking a standard death benefit amounting to 60 per cent of Robert’s wages and up to $3,000 for burial expenses.

Judith claimed her 48-year-old husband, who suffered a fatal heart attack while on a 14-hour shift, has been worked to death but Robert’s employer argued a heavy smoking habit was to blame.

"It was just serendipitous that it happened while he was working," Dr. Walter Schwartz said, according to court papers, in support of employer Lower Bucks County Joint Municipal Authority.

However, cardiac specialist Dr. Larry Wolk disagreed, instead insisting that long work days spent performing hard physical labor were the cause – Robert’s typical tasks varied from operating a jackhammer to digging up tree roots.

A three-person panel of Commonwealth Court judges sided with Judith Dietz, taking the unusual step to reverse a prior Workers’ Compensation Appeal Court Board decision what had denied her the benefit.

"The overwhelming circumstantial evidence in this case shows that exertion from Decedent’s regular work activities over the course of a 14-hour workday caused his heart attack," Judge Mary Hannah Leavitt wrote.


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