Workers comp benefits upheld for widow of man who died on treadmill while working from home

Career Associated Press

Maine's highest court on Thursday upheld workers' compensation benefits for the widow of a Salvation Army portfolio manager who died from a heart attack on a treadmill while monitoring the financial markets on TV and internal email on his BlackBerry.

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The Supreme Judicial Court unanimously rejected the Salvation Army's appeal of benefits granted to the widow of Gregory Sullwold, who worked from his home in Brunswick.

Sullwold, who had suffered a heart attack previously, was denied requests for help managing his workload and was under extreme stress from managing a $2 billion-plus portfolio for the Salvation Army's eastern division, said Bill Higbee, lawyer for his estate.

The way in which he died on Feb. 23, 2010, made it easier to prove the case because Sullwold was working in a home office sanctioned by the Salvation Army, Higbee said.

"It would've been more difficult to prove if it happened while he was walking his dog," he said. "We were able to prove not only was he under a lot of stress, but he was working at the time he died."

An attorney for the Salvation Army said he needed to review the decision before commenting.

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Sullwold had moved to Maine from New York, where the Salvation Army's eastern division is headquartered. The Salvation Army set him up to work from home with a computer, Blackberry and other office materials.

After his death, his widow filed a petition for compensation with the Workers' Compensation Board, alleging that Sullwold's "work resulted in a myocardial infarction and cardiac arrest." Under state law, she was required to demonstrate both that his death occurred in the course of the employment and arose out of the employment.

The court found that the hearing officer properly concluded that Sullwold's injury occurred during work hours in a place that the Salvation Army approved for his work and that he was using the BlackBerry when he died. The officer also rationally concluded that work-related stress contributed to his death, the court said.