Firm News

Heart Attack (and death) found compensable

The 54 year-old worker in this case was employed in a brick factory. He described his factory job as “not stressful” and enjoyable. Sometimes, when a machine would break, the workers would have to work overtime doing manual jobs to keep production going.

On March 11, 2006 the employee had to work overtime. He did strenuous work in a hot environment. While working, he complained to a co-worker of feeling unwell. At the suggestion of the co-worker, the claimant went home early.

The next day the claimant went to the emergency room and was diagnosed as having had a heart attack. A cardiac cauterization was ordered, and the employee died 11 days later.

The claimant’s widow filed a dependency claim petition, alleging that his death resulted from the strenuous condition and the heart attack. Both sides selected experts. Claimant’s expert (Dr. Malcolm Hermele) opined that the heart attack occurred on the day the claimant worked overtime, ad the work effort materially contributed to the attack.

Respondent’s expert opined that the claimant had a long standing unstable angina. According to the employer’s expert, unstable angina is characterized by chest pain that develops with activity and subsides with rest.

After hearing the testimony of both doctors, the Judge of Compensation found that the work effort caused the cardiac event. Although the employer’s expert testify that the claimant had unstable angina and that the heart attack would have occurred even if the employee had not worked overtime, the Judge found that the heavy labor occasioned by the overtime work materially contributed to the heart attack.

This case demonstrates that where your defense expert opines the ‘cardiac event would have curried anyway’ that is not enough to prevail when the claimant can show (1) increased work effort and (2) that the cardiac event occurred while working.

Case: Carol Reading v. Glen Gery Shale and Brick Company, A-1525-09T3 (N.J. App. Div. Decided Oct. 22, 2010). Note: I couldn’t find a link to the final decision online – just the Appellate Division’s notice the decision was issued. Contact me to request a copy of the decision.

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