According to a ruling by the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission (IWCC), an employee who suffers a heart attack because of extremely stressful working conditions is deemed to have sustained a compensable injury. The conditions precedent to this ruling are that the combination of events leading up to the heart attack and the working conditions exposed the worker to greater risks of a heart attack than the general public.
The case is Bartlett v. State of Illinois, 20 ILWCLB 144 (Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission, 2012).
The facts and circumstances leading to the decision are as follows. The injured worker suffering from the heart attack was a project manager for approximately 30 construction projects. The budgets for the various projects totaled nearly $18 million.
During the construction of the various projects, the project manager was faced with multiple problems, including contractor and design disputes. He was also involved with construction delays, confrontations during meetings, continual construction change orders and errors in the construction, in addition to the cost of his projects running over budget.
On one particular day, one of the project’s contractors yelled and screamed in the face of the claimant during a meeting. The project manager testified that he felt as though his life was in danger based upon threats that were made.
A couple of weeks later, the project manager suffered a heart attack after yet another stressful workday, which began with a long drive to the first construction site, an argument with a foreman on the job and a protracted two hour meeting.
The claim was denied in the first hearing by an arbitrator who denied workers’ compensation benefits. On rehearing, the IWCC reversed that arbitrator’s decision, declared the heart attack compensable and ruled that he had indeed sustained an accidental injury in the course and scope of his employment.
There was medical testimony provided by the project manager’s cardiologist confirming that his heart attack was indeed related to job related stressful working conditions that he had endured. Accordingly, the IWCC determined that the stress experienced by this project manager was different from the stress to which the general public is exposed and that this continual stress, over a period of time, had a cumulative effect upon him.
Therefore, the commission stated that the claimant project manager had proven, by a preponderance of the evidence, that his heart attack was causally related to the extraordinary stress of his job.
In most cases where an employee suffers a heart attack while at work, it will not be deemed to be a compensable injury. In most of those situations, the heart attack just happened to occur while the person was at work.
If you have suffered a physical injury while at work, you are entitled to weekly compensation benefits, medical care and possibly a settlement based on the extent and duration of the injury. To understand what your statutory benefits and rights are, you need to talk to a Chicago attorney who is experienced in handling workers’ compensation cases.