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Estate of Sullwold v. Salvation Army

Supreme Judicial Court of Maine

January 22, 2015

ESTATE OF GREGORY SULLWOLD
v.
THE SALVATION ARMY et al

Argued: November 5, 2014.

On the briefs and at oral argument: Arthur J. Lamothe, Esq., Brunswick, for appellant The Salvation Army.

G. William Higbee, Esq., McTeague Higbee, Topsham, for appellee Estate of Gregory Sullwold.

Panel: SAUFLEY, C.J., and ALEXANDER, MEAD, GORMAN, JABAR, and HJELM, JJ.[*]

OPINION

Page 1266

HJELM, J.

[¶1] The Salvation Army appeals from an order of the Workers' Compensation Board Appellate Division affirming the decision of the Board ( Knopf, HO ) to grant an award of compensation to the estate of Gregory Sullwold. The Salvation Army contends that the hearing officer improperly applied the rebuttable presumption in 39-A M.R.S. § 327 (2014) to conclude that Sullwold's death from a heart attack was a personal injury arising out of and in the course of employment. Because we find no error in the hearing officer's application of the presumption, we affirm the judgment.

I. BACKGROUND

[¶2] The hearing officer found the following facts. On February 23, 2010, Gregory Sullwold died of a heart attack while exercising on a treadmill in his home. At the time of his death, he was employed by

Page 1267

the Salvation Army as a portfolio specialist and comptroller and was responsible for overseeing investor relations and the financial interests of the Salvation Army's Eastern Division, which were then valued at approximately $2.5 billion.

[¶3] Sullwold had lived in Maine since 2009, when he moved from New York City, where the Eastern Division's office is located. The Salvation Army permitted him to work remotely from home, supplying him with a computer, BlackBerry, and other office materials. On the day of his death, Sullwold started working at 8:30 a.m. in his home office and continued working until about 3:30 p.m., when he took a break to walk on the treadmill, bringing his BlackBerry with him. About thirty minutes later, his wife found him unconscious on the floor with the treadmill still running and the BlackBerry next to him. Emergency medical professionals were called, but were unable to revive him.

[¶4] Sullwold had previously suffered a heart attack in 1993. As a result, his doctors recommended that he make lifestyle changes by dieting and exercising regularly, which he did. He continued to be treated for coronary artery disease and atherosclerosis, and shortly before his death he reported to his doctor that he was experiencing chest pain while walking his dog. There is no evidence that Sullwold reported any concerns about his workload or work-related stress to any of his doctors, although shortly before his death he suffered a panic attack, which he attributed to " overload." His wife and coworkers also reported that he experienced stress from working long hours and traveling frequently, and that this stress was exacerbated by increased donor contributions after September 11, 2001, and the effect of the 2008 economic downturn on the Salvation Army's finances.

[¶5] On January 28, 2011, Sullwold's widow filed a petition for award of compensation with the Workers' Compensation Board, alleging that Sullwold's " work resulted in a myocardial infarction and cardiac arrest." Following a hearing, the Board granted the petition. The Salvation Army filed a motion for findings of fact and conclusions of law pursuant to 39-A M.R.S. § 318 (2011),[1] and the hearing officer issued a decision reaffirming the original order and making further ...


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