When Work Causes a Heart Attack or Stroke: Work Stress, Exertion & IL Workers’ Comp

Deadlines, late nights, long drives, overtime, loading and unloading shipments, traffic congestion, clients, co-workers, customers, bosses, meetings . . . .

Work stress can easily progress beyond tension headaches and ulcers. It can cause heart attacks and even strokes.

Fortunately, work-related cardiovascular events may be eligible for worker’s compensation benefits, providing financial relief when a family needs it most. In Illinois, a worker is entitled to benefits for stress “if the working conditions expose the worker to risks greater than those facing the general public.” Under the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act, if you prove that a specific work activity or condition probably contributed to your stroke, heart attack, or aggravated or accelerated a heart condition, you may be able to recover compensation benefits. Even if you have heart disease or high blood pressure, you may still be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits if medical evidence shows that your job factored into your heart attack or stroke.

Compensable Heart Attacks & Strokes from Job Stress

In the practice of law, a significant difference exists between “what is possible” and “what is probable.” Successful “job stress” heart attacks claims are difficult. However, in 2012’s Bartlett v. State of Illinois, 20 ILWCLB 144 (Ill. W.C. Comm. 2012), the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission held that a project manager who sustained a heart attack qualified for compensation due to stressful working conditions. As reported in Risk & Insurance, a project manager in charge of about 30 construction projects with budgets totaling $16 million to $18 million encountered several problems with the projects. Project stresses included disagreements and heated arguments with contractors and architects, construction delays, budget overruns, multiple change orders, and construction mistakes. During one particular meeting, a contractor screamed in the manager’s face, and the project manager stated that he felt as if his life had been threatened. Two weeks later, after a stressful workday—which included a long drive to a project site, a tense two-hour meeting, and an argument with a foreman—the manager suffered a heart attack.

An arbitrator originally denied benefits, but the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission overturned the decision. The commission found the manager proved that he sustained an injury due to, and in the course of, his job. The manager’s independent medical examiner stated that his heart attack was related to his extreme, job-related stress. The commission found the stress the manager experienced was different from the stress generally experienced by members of the general public and that this continuing stress, over a period of time, affected him cumulatively. The commission concluded that the claimant proved that his current health condition was causally related to the injuries he sustained on the day of his heart attack.

Physical Work & Compensable Heart Attacks

Employees working in all types of industries can also suffer heart attacks caused by physical exertion, whether from lifting a box of files or a plate-glass window. Heart attacks caused by physical exertion are similar to other work-related accidents. However, instead of a torn ligament or broken bone, the injury is to the heart muscle.

For example, in the process of moving file boxes to another office or setting up a conference exhibit, your heart will work harder. If you have a heart attack after a work day that involves this unusual heavy lifting, then your heart attack should be eligible for Illinois workers’ compensation—even if you already have high cholesterol or high blood pressure. If your job usually involves heavy lifting, you may be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits if you sustained your heart attack during after after performing your job in extreme heat, cold or other dangerous environments or were performing any other unusual activity that is a risk to your heart.

Finally, work-related heart attacks or even strokes may be the result of a different work accident, such as the victim’s reaction to a work-related auto accident, from the shock of first degree burns, or from the pain or blood loss of a traumatic industrial equipment injury.

Benefits for Cardiovascular Injuries

Any medical treatment involving the heart is expensive, and your employer’s workers’ compensation insurance company will make a strong effort to downplay or negate the role your work activities or stress played in your heart attack or stroke. To obtain the best compensation possible, it is imperative that you or a loved one contact an experienced Illinois workers’ compensation attorney, such as Sylvia Styka, after any cardiovascular event that may be related to your job.

Ms. Styka will discuss your options with you and your family and will work with your cardiology team and an experienced team of experts to develop a case that shows how your job pressures or activities have impacted your heart health and caused your cardiovascular problems, including such lasting effects of heart attacks and strokes as cardiac arrhythmia (heart palpitations or irregular heartbeat), angina, restricted activities, paralysis, loss of speech, and other serious long-term complications.

In addition to compensation for lost income and medical bills, a compensation settlement or verdict for heart attack and stroke victims may include future medical procedures, including stents, EKGs, hospital stays, prescriptions, rehabilitation, and home health care. If you are unable to return to work—or if a family is seeking compensation for wrongful death—compensation will also include future lost wages.

Remember, the fact that you can’t see your injury doesn’t mean it didn’t happen or isn’t an injury. Call Styka & Styka at (312)357-8000 immediately after you or a loved one has suffered a heart attack or stroke that may be work related.

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