An Ohio appellate court upheld the denial of death benefits to the estate of a morbidly obese woman who died of a heart attack after having to walk a block from an off-site parking lot to her workplace, because her normal parking space adjacent to the building was blocked by a construction vehicle.
Case: Davis et al. v. Ryan et al., No. 11AP-198, 01/31/2012.
Facts: Deborah A. Davis worked in a clerical position for the Ohio Education Association. On Nov. 21, 2005, she drove to work and came upon a construction truck blocking access to the handicap parking spot where she normally parked. She parked her car in another parking lot one block south of her workplace.
A co-worker encountered Davis walking to work and offered to ask the driver of the truck to move it. Davis then returned to her car. When the co-worker arrived to tell her the truck had been moved, she found Davis unresponsive.
At the time of her death, Davis stood 5 foot 4 inches and weighed 317 pounds. She smoked two packs of cigarettes per day and suffered from a multitude of health problems, including systemic hypertension, reactive airway disease, high cholesterol, diabetes, and obstructive sleep apnea. Davis had also undergone double coronary bypass surgery one year prior to her death.
Her treating cardiologist testified that Davis was a “poster child for heart disease,” and “was at risk for having a heart attack at any point.”
Procedural History: Davis’ husband, as administrator of her estate, filed a workers’ compensation claim for death benefits, asserting Davis’ death was due to overexertion based on her attempt to walk to work from the off-site parking lot.
The Bureau of Workers’ Compensation denied his application. He appealed to the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas. That court granted summary judgment in favor of the bureau, concluding Davis’ death was caused by natural deterioration from her pre-existing physical conditions.
Ruling: The appellate court reasoned that Davis’ widower had failed to establish a sufficient causal link between her waking and her death. They court explained that “expert testimony regarding causation must be expressed in terms of probability, not possibility,” and noted Davis’ doctor repeatedly answered “no” when asked whether he could conclude, within a degree of medical probability, that the act of walking would trigger a heart attack.