Heart Attack = “Injury by Accident?”

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Loudoun County workers comp lawyer Doug Landau is often asked why injuries from hard physical labor are NOT covered by the Virginia Workers Compensation laws. It is because the Workers Comp statute requires a sudden event that causes a specific injury. “Gradually incurred injuries or conditions often do not pass muster,” notes lawyer Landau.

For example, in the 1993 case of Wilhelm v. Rockydale Quarries Corp., a worker began suffering his heart attack symptoms while shoveling waste gravel and rocks from under conveyor belts. At trial, and again on appeal, the Virginia Workers Compensation Commission (“VWC”) found that the claimant’s injury did not meet the requirement of an “identifiable incident” or “sudden precipitating event” necessary for the award of benefits.

Working hard and getting hurt is not enough to qualify for Virginia Workers Compensation benefits; one must also show a specific work related event, accident and related physical change in the body

According to the decision on appeal and the medical evidence, the disabled claimant’s heart attack could just as likely have been the result of several hours of physical exertion over the course of the day, possibly precipitated by his high blood pressure, high cholesterol, tobacco use and/or angina. On appeal, it could not be said that the VWC erred in finding that the claimant failed to prove an injury by accident which is compensable. Therefore, the denial of benefits was affirmed. 

Lawyer Landau observes that “if the heart attack came after the shoveling and then some other strenuous, unique, one-time event, such as pulling the conveyer belt to get it moving, then if the injured worker could point to that event as being the instant he felt the pain in his chest or radiating down his left arm, then he may have had a chance to win on compensability. However, the ‘same old – same old’ shoveling all day, part of a day or for several hours, without differentiation of a causative event will likely not be seen as satisfying the statute by a Virginia court.” If you, or someone you know, has had a heart attack or other permanent injury on the job,  and there are questions as to the law and benefits, please give us a call at 703-796-9555 or e-mail us at once.