Jeff was an assistant professor of physics at Stanford University who was just beginning a “pre-tenure academic sabbatical” year in June 2000. This sabbatical was fully paid, and its purpose was to enable him to devote himself full-time to the research and writing based upon which his application for tenure would be judged by Stanford and its Department of Physics. Jeff was “on the bubble”” as far as tenure was concerned and felt tremendous pressure to produce a high volume of world class research and writing by the end of the sabbatical year. This was verified by the Chairman of the Department of Physics, Nobel Laureate Steven Chu. Professor Chu also testified that it was common for members of his department to work off-campus, especially theoretical physicists such as Jeff.
At the beginning of Jeff’s academic sabbatical year, Stanford’s on-campus child care program was closed for staff vacations. Because his wife was expecting their third child and planning a leave of absence from her work after the birth, they could not afford for her to stay home with their children. On the other hand, Jeff felt that he could not take care of the children and lose the research and writing time the childcare was unavailable. Thus he came up with the idea of taking his children to New Jersey, where his mother could take care of them during the day while he communicated with his graduate and post-doctoral students and did research and writing, using his laptop computer and infrared uplink.
Jeff and the children flew to New Jersey on a Friday. He had a productive day of research and writing while his mom took care of the children Saturday. That evening he called his wife, told her he had a productive day, and said that he was going to “push on”” Sunday. On Sunday Jeff took his laptop to a Starbucks’ Cafe in Englewood, New Jersey. While he was there working at his computer on a paper on “red shift phenomena”, a motorist lost control of his car on a nearby expressway. It flew into the cafe, striking and killing Jeff.
From the outset, Stanford University and its insurance carrier took the position that this was not a job-related death. During pre-trial depositions, the facts set forth above were confirmed. We also established that the laptop Jeff was using was purchased with Stanford funds for use on physics department work. Notwithstanding these and many more facts, no offer of settlement was ever made prior to trial.
After the trial, the workers’ compensation judge found that Jeff’s death was the result of an injury that arose out of and occurred in the course of his employment. Although the insurance carrier appealed twice, both appeals were denied summarily. As the result of our efforts, Jeff’s three children will receive well over $700,000 in workers’ compensation benefits.