A heart attack occurs as a result of a clot in the artery to the heart that totally blocks the artery. The clot is the product of a disease of the artery wall called arteriosclerosis. The clot is formed from cholesterol deposits; the greater the cholesterol deposit, the less room there is for blood to flow to the heart. When the blood supply is restricted, it causes inflammation in the artery, and as the blood supply to the heart is reduced, a heart attack results. This often produces damage to the heart muscle that can actually cause the muscle to die.
Certain events can trigger heart-related chest pain (sometimes referred to as angina or a heart attack); two of the recognized triggers are physical stress and emotional stress. The stress can set off a chemical reaction in the body that causes the cholesterol to break free, which impairs blood flow to the heart. Physical exertion like shoveling snow, moving furniture or any other heavy lifting can trigger a heart attack. Emotional stress can do the same. In an employment context, an abusive boss, long work hours, and unusual job-related pressures can trigger a heart attack. This phenomenon is well documented in the peer-reviewed medical literature. One such example is an article reporting a study done in Canada in the “Journal of the American Medical Association” on October 10, 2007.
When seeking medical care for a heart attack, it is very important to provide all health care providers (such as Emergency Room nurses and doctors and the attending cardiologist) with information concerning job stress because its absence from the medical records may make pursuing a workers’ compensation claim more difficult.
In order to properly assess the compensability of a heart attack under the Workers’ Compensation Act, it is necessary for an attorney to determine co-morbid (coexistent) contributors such as stressful home life or financial problems. It is also important to determine if the client has pre-existing risk factors for a heart attack, including smoking; being overweight; leading a sedentary lifestyle; or having diabetes, elevated cholesterol, or high blood pressure. Also, family history must be taken into account. However, even if risk factors existed before the heart attack, the attack can still be linked to the triggering event from employment under the law.
These cases are complex, and we at Casper & de Toledo can assist you in figuring out the details. For example, to establish compensability of a heart attack to employment and thus create an entitlement to workers’ compensation benefits, one must prove that it is more likely than not that the work-related stress either caused or was a substantial contributing cause of the onset of pain that was the precursor or trigger of a heart attack. This must be proven to a reasonable degree of medical probability. The work-related event need not be the sole cause of the heart attack.
In the case of death, surviving dependents, including the surviving spouse, would be entitled to pursue the workers’ compensation claim. In case of disability, the patient may be entitled to substantial wage replacement benefits that may last as long as the reduced ability to work lasts. Also, this can be supplemented by compensation for permanent partial disability to the heart.
There is a special benefit in Connecticut for police and firefighters employed prior to July 1, 1996, who suffer from heart disease and/or hypertension. As long as employment began with a pre-employment physical that demonstrated no evidence of hypertension or heart disease, the law provides benefits virtually equivalent to the Workers’ Compensation Act under the Heart & Hypertension Act, without regard to proof of causation.
If you have reason to believe that your heart attack may have been triggered by job-related stress, even if the actual heart attack did not occur at work, you should contact the workers’ compensation lawyers at Casper & de Toledo to determine if you have a viable claim.