Workers’ Compensation | Heart Attack at Work
After a serious cardiac incident, you might wonder if you can receive workers’ compensation benefits for a heart attack at work. Heart attacks, which are sometimes called myocardial infarctions, can have many causes. Depending on your circumstances and medical evidence, your workplace heart attack might be compensable injury or occupational illness.
What Can Cause Heart Attacks?
A heart attack occurs when something, typically build-up in your heart (called plaque) or a sudden spasm, blocks the flow of blood to your heart muscle. This blockage stops the flow of oxygen to your heart and can subsequently cause heart tissue to die. If not treated quickly, a heart attack can be fatal. It can also cause permanent damage to your heart.
Common symptoms of a heart attack include the following:
- Chest pain
- Jaw, neck, or back pain
- Arm or shoulder pain
- Shortness of breath
- Nausea or vomiting
- Heart palpitations (feeling like your heart is beating irregularly)
If you’re concerned about cardiac symptoms, seek immediate medical attention. Prompt treatment for a heart attack, stroke, or other cardiac issue is vital to your survival and recovery.
While some workers can return to work quickly after a heart attack, others require intensive medical treatment and face permanent limitations. After a heart attack, work closely with your doctors — and make sure they understand your level of fatigue in addition to other symptoms. Together, both you and your medical team can build a treatment and recovery plan that focuses on your unique circumstances.
California’s Workers’ Compensation Laws Regarding Heart Attack at Work
Heart disease is one of the most common causes of death in the United States. While most heart attacks aren’t work-related, your work can sometimes trigger a myocardial infarction. In these cases, you should also apply for workers’ compensation benefits.
Like many states, California’s workers’ compensation laws include special rules concerning the compensability of a heart attack at work. You must have evidence that strongly shows that the work activities either caused the heart attack or hastened it. This requires a careful assessment of your medical records and might therefore require insight from expert medical witnesses. (Your word alone, without corroborating medical evidence, will rarely prove your workers’ compensation heart attack at work claim.)
Factors That Can Trigger a Heart Attack
Sometimes, a single event causes a heart attack. Other times, prolonged physical activity or environmental exposure adds up cumulatively over time. Work-related medical treatment can also cause a heart attack. A variety of factors can trigger a heart attack or worsen your underlying heart disease:
Oftentimes work that is heavy or intense in nature can lead to a heart attack. This would include situations where someone was expected to lift heavy items, move quickly, or otherwise exert themselves physically for an extended period of time. Physical activity does not have to be heavy in nature. Physical exertion may also occur when people are expected to work for longer than is reasonable, covering multiple shifts or staying up all night to finish a job.
Emotional Stress and Trauma (Under Certain Conditions)
Intense emotions can also lead to heart attack. If a person is exposed to constant or extreme excitement, worry, fear, surprise, or anxiety at work, they may be eligible to make a claim for workers’ compensation heart attack at work benefits. For example, if a supervisor verbally abuses a person or yells at them constantly, they may cause emotional stress or trauma that results in a heart attack.
Exposure to chemicals and other substances that damage your heart and lungs can result in a heart attack. These situations often cause cardio-vascular deterioration that will eventually lead to an attack. Extra strain on the heart can also be caused by exposure to heat or lack of water (leading to dehydration) and other environmental factors.
Medical Treatment for Another Work Injury
If a person is receiving medical treatment for a work injury, a heart attack may be caused by that medical treatment. For example, a person may have a heart attack after undergoing an MRI and being in a tight space. Or, the side effect of a medication may be heart problems. Heart attacks arising out of medical treatment for work-related injuries are also compensated as part of the original injury.
Don’t Give Up If Your Claim Is Denied
However, workers’ compensation insurance companies regularly dispute heart attack at work claims, even when they are well-supported by evidence. If your claim is denied, don’t give up hope. Instead, contact an experienced Pasadena workers’ compensation lawyer — ideally one with a firm grasp on the laws surrounding a heart attack at work.
What Workers’ Compensation Benefits Can I Receive After a Heart Attack at Work?
Under California workers’ compensation law, you might receive a variety of benefits after a heart attack at work. While every workers’ comp claim is different, your benefits might include:
- Reasonable and necessary medical care, including surgery, hospitalization, ambulance services, and medications
- Assistive and medical devices, such as wheelchairs and pacemakers
- Temporary disability payments
- Compensation for your permanent disabilities
- Death benefits and compensation to dependents
- Mileage payments for travel to and from doctor’s appointments
You also might negotiate a lump-sum settlement with your employer and its insurance company.
Most California employers carry workers’ compensation insurance. After a heart attack, you or your workers’ compensation lawyer will file a claim with the insurance company. While it might approve your request for benefits, insurance companies frequently dispute or deny workers’ compensation claims involving a heart attack at work. They might blame the heart attack on a pre-existing condition or other factors in an attempt to avoid liability.
If your claim is denied, discuss your appeal rights with an experienced workers’ comp lawyer. You should act quickly — California sets strict filing deadlines in workers’ compensation appeals. If you miss the deadline, you’ll automatically lose your right to benefits.
What If I Had Pre-Existing Risk Factors?
If you have a heart attack and make a claim for workers’ comp, your employer and their insurance company will likely look at your prior health history. They will try to pin the cause of the heart attack on factors that are not work-related. For example, if you had high cholesterol, your employer may try to state that you were already at risk for a heart attack. You will have to prove that factors at work actually caused your heart attack.
In reality, most heart attacks have more than one cause. Often, you will have to seek a medical opinion regarding the work-related cause of your heart attack. This may even require multiple doctors’ opinions.
What If the Heart Attack Occurs Outside of the Workplace?
Your heart attack does not have to occur at work in order to be work-related. Many of the factors discussed above can cause a heart attack at any time and not immediately upon exposure to the factor. Workers’ compensation claims have been awarded in situations where heart attacks occurred during non-work hours and several days after an employee worked.
Discuss Your Heart Attack With a Workers’ Compensation Lawyer
Winning a workers’ compensation claim for a heart attack at work isn’t easy. It requires a very detailed legal, medical, and vocational analysis of your claim, aggressive representation, and a comprehensive litigation strategy. If you or a loved one suffered a workplace heart attack, you need a skilled workers’ comp lawyer by your side.
At the Law Office of Stephen Dewberry, we’re committed to the rights of injured workers. Contact us for a free, no-risk consultation.