Workers’ compensation is in place to enable workers who are injured on the job to receive benefits while they recover from their injury. To be compensable under California law, the injury must have been caused, at least in part, by the work or work environment. The work injury can be related to physical exertion, job stress, or physical strain that triggers a heart attack.
The work condition or stressor can be a single incident or a long-term condition or stressor. An example of a single stressor might involve a worker with a history of high blood pressure, who is required to lift heavy objects as part of his or her work. An example of a long-term condition or stressor might involve a person who works in a high-stress job, such as a salesperson that is under stress to meet goals and deadlines and has a heart attack at work. If you or a loved one had a heart attack at work and the work or the work environment caused the heart attack, you should apply for workers’ compensation.
Is a Heart Attack Covered by Workers’ Compensation?
An injury or sickness is considered work-related if exposure or an event in the workplace caused or contributed to the condition, or severely exacerbated a pre-existing condition, according to the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA). The following illnesses are classified as qualifying illnesses by Cal/OSHA:
- Skin diseases or disorders
- Respiratory conditions
- Hearing loss
- Other work-related ailments
According to a background study published by the California Commission on Health and Safety and Workers’ Compensation, California’s workers’ compensation expenses are greater than in other states, in part because many injuries in California are compensable that are not in other jurisdictions.
However, for a work-related injury like a heart attack, the worker’s job or work-related stress does not have to be the sole cause of the injury – merely a significant contributing cause – and all that is required is proof of a reasonable probability that it played a role in the damage. The document cover sheet for California workers’ compensation claims includes a body part code list, which includes a code for heart attacks, number 802.
When an injury or disease aggravates a pre-existing condition, compensation is limited under state workers’ compensation law to the part of impairment that can be attributable to work-related conditions. What workers’ compensation benefits are available to you will depend on the unique facts of your case.
Proving a Work-Related Heart Attack or Stroke
Workers’ compensation in California covers heart attacks, strokes, and other cardiac injuries, but the employee bears the burden of proof. Claimants must prove a link between their work and the injury they sustained. Workers should thoroughly address:
- Medical records as evidence. Medical evidence is critical for supporting your case if you have no history of cardiac problems. This is especially true if your employment dates coincide with the deteriorating test findings or symptoms (like high blood pressure, angina, panic attacks, or problems sleeping).
- Injuries that have occurred previously. Medical evidence like a history of cardiovascular problems, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol may be used by your employer’s insurance company to deny your claim. It’s crucial to realize, though, that earlier injuries may still be covered if your job aggravated them. A person with an irregular heartbeat, for example, may be more vulnerable to cardiac problems brought on by professional stress.
- The working environment’s specific conditions. Heat exhaustion, especially when accompanied with hard exertion, is a significant cause of heart attacks and strokes. On the date of your injury, you should list all your physical responsibilities, your location, and any relevant variables. Furthermore, if you were harassed by a boss, pressed to meet a tight deadline, threatened by a coworker, or put in a lot of overtime hours in a row, these extreme work demands could have contributed to your illness.
Factors Unrelated to Work
It must also be demonstrated that other circumstances did not play a larger role in the heart attack than the workplace incident.
It may be more difficult to establish a workers’ compensation claim if it is established that a poor diet and declining physical health also contributed to a heart attack at work.
The Issue of Apportionment
A heart attack is one example of a medical injury that almost always occurs because of an underlying preexisting condition. Most heart attack victims have had a heart condition or underlying cardiovascular condition for years before a heart attack occurs. Under California law, if the work aggravates the preexisting condition sufficiently to cause a heart attack, the worker is entitled to workers’ comp benefits. If there is evidence of a causal relationship between the work and the injury, a worker is entitled to benefits. The question of how much in benefits is handled by apportionment.
Apportionment is a complex area of the law. All apportionment of any permanent disability must be based on causation. A doctor must make an apportionment of the injury by determining what percentage of the permanent disability was directly caused by a worker’s course of employment and what percentage was caused by other factors.
An employer is only liable for the percentage of the disability due to the aggravation of any preexisting disease or condition that can reasonably be attributed to the injury. (Labor Code Section 4663).
Courts have been split on the issue of apportionment in cases with preexisting conditions. Some courts have found that where the work aggravated or “lit up” the preexisting condition, the employer must pay compensation to the worker for the entire injury. Other courts have mandated apportionment in cases where the disability is caused partly by a work injury and partly from the normal progress of the underlying condition. This may feel a little like splitting hairs.
Expert medical testament is usually required. A Qualified Medical Examiner specializing in cardiology must be consulted on the issue of causation in a case of a heart attack.
These cases are complex and require a great deal of legal and medical expertise to resolve. And small facts matter. The stakes are high in these cases. Often, a heart attack will preclude a worker from further employment. Therefore, if you have suffered a heart attack in the workplace, work with an experienced Orange County workers’ compensation attorney whom you trust.
Compensation for Workplace Injuries and Heart Attacks
Workers’ compensation injuries can be divided into two categories.
- Specific injuries caused by stressful experiences or short-term exposure to harmful substances, such as construction accidents.
- Cumulative injuries, which are physical or mental problems produced by a series of work-related injuries.
Through mental stress and anxiety in the workplace, as opposed to physical labor, a specific sort of cumulative injury can cause heart disease, stroke, digestive issues, hypertension, and other ailments. Although American medicine has been hesitant to understand the impact of the mind on the body, courts are finally recognizing that stress-related injuries are covered by workers’ compensation insurance, which includes heart attack reimbursement.
Workers’ compensation benefits may be available to an employee who experiences a heart attack at work and can prove that the cause was work-related. These benefits may include:
- All required and reasonable medical care
- Temporary disability payments, which are usually computed at two-thirds of an employee’s gross salary.
- Permanent disability benefits if the employee is unable to return to work
- Vocational rehabilitation training if the employee is unable to return to work
- Death benefits for dependents if the employee dies because of the heart attack
Have you been injured at work in Orange County?
If you’ve been injured at work, you should contact a workers’ compensation attorney as quickly as possible. To schedule your free consultation, please contact us online or call 949.516.0429. In Orange County, California, we assist workers who have been injured at work.