In this case, the W.C.C.A. held that substantial evidence supported the compensation
judge’s finding that the Employee was not in the course of his employment when he died.
The Employee was a 38-year-old custodian. On the date of his death, his job duties were
to shampoo a carpet and to secure the school by ensuring that no one was in the building
when his shift ended at 4:30 p.m.
There were security cameras inside the school, and intermittent footage of the Employee
showed that he stayed at school long past 4:30 p.m., and was behaving erratically. In one
instance he stood motionless in a hallway for ten minutes, and another time, he sat in a
desk in a hallway for 30 minutes. He then moved the desk into a classroom at around 8
p.m. and was not seen on camera again. His wife called the police early the next morning,
and they found the deceased Employee lying face-down in the classroom into which
he had moved the desk, which was on its side. The medical examiner wrote that there
was “no anatomic cause of death.” “Hypertension” was listed under “other contributing
cause.” The employee also had diabetes, elevated cholesterol, and obesity, and had had a
pituitary gland tumor that had been removed seven years before his death.
The Employee’s representative filed a claim petition alleging that the Employee’s death
arose out of and in the course of his employment and that dependency benefits were due.
The employer and insurer’s expert opined that the Employee’s death was from natural
causes and that his behavior on camera was consistent with someone experiencing a
metabolic disturbance, which may have been caused by his pituitary gland condition
and could have led to cardiac arrhythmia. The Employee’s estate’s expert disagreed and
thought the cause of death was multifactorial. She hypothesized that he might have been
standing on the desk and fell, with the trauma of the fall causing a fatal arrhythmia. The
compensation judge found that the preponderance of the evidence failed to establish that
the Employee’s death arose out of or in the course of his employment.
On appeal, the W.C.C.A. stated the general rule that for an injury or death to “arise out
of” employment, there must be a causal connection between the work activities and
the injury or death. For an injury or death to occur “in the course of” employment, the
activity of the employee at the time of the injury or death must be reasonably incidental
to his employment. The two phrases “arise out of” and “in the course of” are elements
of one issue of work-relatedness. Where one element is weak, the injury may still be
compensable if the other is strong. The W.C.C.A. found that in this case, the Employee
was not in the course and scope of his employment when he died. His death occurred
at least three and a half hours after his shift was scheduled to end, and he had not called
his supervisor to request overtime. The video footage showed he was not engaging in
any work activity after 4:30 p.m. There is no indication that he carried the desk into
the classroom for any work purpose. Therefore, substantial evidence supported the
compensation judge’s denial of dependency benefits.