A Pennsylvania court recently addressed the issue of whether an employee who had a pre-existing heart condition because of years of smoking could receive workers’ compensation benefits for a heart attack he suffered after performing his job duties in Edmondo Bemis vs. Workers' Compensation Appeal Board. The court found that the lower courts had erred in denying the employee workers’ compensation benefits.
The employee bringing the claim had worked as a chef and restaurant manager for 30 years. He had also been a smoker for 30 years. He was moving beer kegs one day at work in 2008 when he began to have chest pains. Three days later, he had similar pains while a lifting heavy pot of chili. The man sought medical attention and ended up having to go to the hospital for several days. The man eventually underwent quadruple bypass surgery.
The man filed for workers’ compensation benefits, arguing that the heavy lifting at his job made his heart condition worse and caused his total disability. The employer denied responsibility. At the hearing before the workers’ compensation judge, the man’s cardiologist testified that the heavily lifting probably precipitated the injury. However, the workers’ compensation judge, and later the appeals board, ruled that the doctor’s testimony did not substantially establish a causal relationship between the lifting and the heart problems.
Appellate Court’s Decision
The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court overturned the lower courts’ decisions. The court noted that a heart attack that results from a pre-existing cardiac condition that work duties aggravate is compensable, as long as the employee shows that the work activity was a substantial contributing factor in causing the heart attack.
The court held that the doctor’s testimony showed that the man already had plaque accumulation in his arteries, possibly because of his lifelong smoking habit, and the heavy lifting at work further narrowed his arteries and decreased the blood flow to the heart. Therefore, the employee showed that his work contributed to his heart problems and should have received benefits.
Consult an Attorney
Obtaining workers’ compensation benefits can be a confusing and overwhelming process. If an employer denies an employee’s injury as a workers’ comp claim, the burden is on the employee to show that he or she suffered a work injury and that the employer needs to pay benefits. Many employees do not know the intricacies of workers’ compensation law that they would need to successfully do so, and may end up receiving nothing for their work injuries if they try to go through the process alone.
If you have suffered an on-the-job injury, talk to an experienced workers’ compensation attorney who can ensure that you receive just and proper compensation.