Estate of Sullwold v. The Salvation Army
Chesterfield Services, Inc.
November 8, 2013
Death of Employee Death Presumption §327 §215 §216 Hall v. State Heart Attack
Summary from the Troubh Heisler Attorneys
Sullwold was comptroller for Salvation Army’s eastern territory and worked from his home in Brunswick. He had history of cardiac problems, including a prior heart attack, for which he received periodic treatment. He exercised regularly using a treadmill at home and died of a heart attack after doing so one afternoon while taking a break from his work.
Sullwold’s estate filed a petition, and at hearing, Mrs. Sullwold testified that her husband worked under “extraordinary and relentless” stress, and that she found him unconscious on the floor with his treadmill running, his phone nearby, and the TV on a financial news program.
Hearing Officer Knopf applied the §327 presumption and granted the petition, finding that Salvation Army failed to disprove that the heart attack arose out of and in the course of employment. Salvation Army appealed, and the WC Board determined that the matter should be addressed “en banc,” i.e., by all of the other hearing officers, rather than by just normal three.
The Appellate Division first held that the facts of the case provided enough “linkage” between the incident and the claim to apply the presumption, thus establishing that: 1) the injury arose out of and in the course of employment; 2) notice of the injury was given; and 3) the injury was not caused by the employee’s willful intention.
It then held that Salvation Army had not only the burden of production of evidence, but also the ultimate burden of proof that the heart was not work-related, and it upheld HO Knopf’s decision that the Salvation Army had not sustained its burden of proof. HO Greene issued a dissent, arguing that under the majority’s rationale all heart attacks are effectively presumed to be work-related.