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Feltman v. Transistor Devices

November 12, 2002

PAULINE FELTMAN, PETITIONER-APPELLANT,
v.
TRANSISTOR DEVICES, INC., RESPONDENT-RESPONDENT.



On appeal from the Division of Workers' Compensation, Department of Labor, Docket No. 96-040948.

Before Judges Stern *fn1 , Collester and Alley.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Alley, J.A.D.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Argued October 8, 2002

Pauline Feltman filed a dependency claim in October 1996 based on her husband Stanley Feltman's death in December 1994. Feltman's employer, Transistor Devices, Inc., filed an answer to Mrs. Feltman's claim in January 1997. Following a hearing held between March 2000, and January 2001, a judge of compensation dismissed her claim on May 29, 2001. The judge of compensation set forth his reasons in a written decision dated May 9, 2001. Petitioner appeals from the dismissal, and we affirm.

I.

The evidence at the hearing included the following. Stanley Feltman worked as a vice president for respondent Transistor Devices, Inc., of Cedar Knolls, New Jersey (Transistor). According to his death certificate, he died of a myocardial infarction at his home on December 16, 1994. His heart attack occurred within hours of his return from a business trip he took for respondent to Lockheed Aircraft Services in Ontario, California.

Pauline Feltman of West Milford, New Jersey, Feltman's widow, petitioned the Division of Workers' Compensation of the State of New Jersey Department of Labor in October 1996. Her claim petition alleged that her husband's fatal myocardial infarction arose out of and in the course of his employment with Transistor.

Feltman, a designer of power tools, became a vice president of Transistor when it acquired his company, ACDeCo, in 1983. He continued as vice president of power supplies -- managing people, designing tools, executing designs, and meeting with investors and customers. Transistor's CEO called Feltman's job a "desk job" and described him as a talented electrical engineer. Feltman traveled overnight about once a year on business.

Beginning in December 1993, Feltman worked primarily to establish Transistor as a subcontractor to Lockheed. Transistor would design hardware to be used in planes Lockheed hoped to produce for the Air Force. Lockheed had been awarded the engineering phase of the Air Force contract and hoped to win the production portion, which would amount to eighty-five million dollars or more for Lockheed. During the summer of 1994, Transistor won the first of six potential one-year option contracts with Lockheed. This first contract represented a net profit of two million dollars for Transistor, which stood to gain up to thirty million dollars if retained as a contractor throughout the project.

Feltman was responsible for Transistor's bid and for negotiations with Lockheed. According to petitioner, the project could be described as Feltman's "baby." During his last year, he worked weekends and overtime on this matter, or about fifty to sixty hours a week according to his co-worker Kathleen Thornton.

The parties dispute the extent to which a potential award of subsequent contracts hinged on the December 1994 meetings at Lockheed. Feltman traveled to Ontario, California as Transistor's principal representative, accompanied by Thornton. Lockheed needed to be assured that Transistor's components would meet Air Force specifications. Some changes needed to be made in Transistor's designs, and this conference included a technical review of such issues. Thornton maintained the trip was "routine," explaining that representatives from the Air Force, from Lockheed, and from the major subcontractors had to review the aircraft plans.

The agenda for Feltman's business trip covered scheduled meetings for December 13 and 14, 1994. Twelve of the twenty-two meetings were scheduled on the first day, the remaining ten for the second day. Each day's schedule provided for a fifteen minute hospitality session beginning at 8:00 a.m., an hour lunch, and two fifteen minute breaks. The days were set to end at 3:15 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. respectively. The agenda listed Feltman, along with two engineers from other companies, as responsible for presenting an hour and five minute segment on December 14.

According to Thornton, on December 12, she and Feltman took a three-hour flight to St. Louis, flew four hours from there to California, rented a car, placed a call to their home office, and shared dinner and discussion about the meetings planned for the thirteenth.

The thirteenth marked the first day of meetings, which constituted a "preliminary design review." Feltman worked all day, through lunch, and became involved in each meeting. He also gave a presentation for between thirty and forty minutes about an electrical upgrade he planned to implement. Following wrap-up meetings with Lockheed staff, Feltman drove Thornton on a tour of Los Angeles, to the raceway, and to dinner.

Instead of leaving as planned on the fourteenth, Feltman learned he had to stay an additional day. Because Thornton left on the morning of the fourteenth, she reconstructed Feltman's day from a conversation she had with him during his flight- layover on the fifteenth. He gave, or helped to give, a total of four technical presentations. In their phone conversation, Feltman reported disagreements with a Lockheed engineer about how design changes should be made and expressed pleasure that each had been resolved in his favor. Thornton called these disagreements "typical," noted nothing unusual about Feltman's conduct during the trip, and indicated that while meetings had been argumentative at times, they had not been inordinately so.

Mrs. Feltman alone told of Feltman's last hours. He drove himself from the airport, arriving home before 9:00 p.m. He told his wife he was glad to be home but was not feeling well. He relaxed a little, ate some fruit, and reviewed material from the conference. He went to bed at approximately 11:00 p.m., but it is unknown whether he fell asleep. Mrs. Feltman awoke as her husband stood up beside their bed and silently fell backward. She called "911" for emergency assistance but the police and rescue squad were unable to revive him.

When Feltman died he was sixty-three years old. His wife testified that he had had no blood pressure problems although respondent disputed this. No one alleged he had smoked since quitting in 1983. All agreed he carried considerable weight on his six-foot four-and-one-half inch frame. Estimates of his weight ranged from three to four hundred pounds. Both doctors termed him "morbidly obese," a state carrying health risks of its own.

There was no doubt that Feltman lived a sedentary life. His wife noted he had no hobbies and engaged in no exercise. Thornton remembered him looking like a "couch potato." Leisure activities for Feltman included enjoying his stereo and his dogs, reading, watching television, and using the computer.

Thornton recalled Feltman saying he had not felt well following a vacation he had taken several weeks earlier. Mrs. Feltman, however, recalled that he had felt relaxed during that vacation and immediately thereafter. Directly before his trip to California, Feltman told his wife he did not feel like going. He explained he did not feel well, was tired, and his legs bothered him. Mrs. Feltman felt that he was under emotional stress from missing out on a bonus in November, negotiating with Lockheed, and anticipating design changes which could flow from the conference. ...


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