Heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s estimated that 720,000 people in this country suffer a heart attack each year, which works out to about one every 34 seconds.
The question of whether a heart attack is compensable under the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Act is a complicated one. Under Section 42-11-10, in order for a heart attack to be compensable, the claimant needs to show:
- Extraordinary or unusual physical exertion, strain or unusual condition occurring in the course of employment;
- A causal connection between the exertion, unusual condition or strain and the heart attack.
Claimants aren’t necessarily going to be able to succeed in a case simply because a heart attack occurred at work. However, if there is evidence of exceptional circumstances relating to the job that caused or significantly contributed to the heart attack, the claim could be successful.
Recently in Ohio, the widow of deceased Toledo Mayor D. Michael Collins has filed a workers’ compensation lawsuit seeking death benefits after her husband suffered a heart attack in February. In Dabrik Collins v. City of Toledo et al., plaintiff asserts Collins, then 70, died five days after suffering cardiac arrest while in his government-owned vehicle in the midst of a snow emergency in the city.
The mayor was reportedly driving in a sport utility vehicle around 2 p.m. on a Sunday when he crashed his vehicle into a utility pole. Authorities would later conclude the mayor suffered a heart attack while he was driving. He was immediately taken to a local hospital, where he died several days later.
Just prior to the crash, Collins had convened a news conference, alongside the county sheriff, to inform the public of driving restrictions that would start that day around 3 p.m., due to the icy, snowy conditions of the road. Shortly after that news conference, Collins left and went to Costco, which was a personal errand. According to a city spokesperson, the crash site was roughly on his way home from that trip. However, it was known that in similar situations before, Collins had a habit of taking the long way home in order to personally examine the conditions of the road. Such an action would be work-related. However, the question of whether Collins was engaged in a work-related duty at the time of his death won’t be the only relevant issue here. What the courts will seek to analyze is whether the fatal condition was caused in whole or in part due to job-related stress or conditions.
Collins’ widow filed for workers’ compensation death benefits shortly after his death. However, that claim was denied by the city. She then appealed to that state’s industrial commission, which reversed in June and granted benefits. The state Bureau of Workers’ Compensation appealed and another hearing officer denied the claim, and the commission denied any further hearings on the matter. That prompted Collins’ widow to file the lawsuit.
In these cases, a worker’s prior medical history often becomes critical evidence. If the employee had heart disease risk factors or prior treatment for a heart condition in the months or years before the attack, defense could use this to their advantage. It will be necessary for claimant to show work-related stress or other factors contributed to the heart condition and/or caused the heart attack.
If you have been injured at work, contact the Lee Law Offices at 800-887-1965.
Dabrik Collins v. City of Toledo et al., Dec. 4, 2015, Lucas County Court of Common Pleas
More Blog Entries:
Workplace Violence in Hospitals Addressed by OSHA, North Carolina Legislature, Dec. 10, 2015, Spartanburg Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog