Can I Get Workers’ Comp if I Have a Heart Attack at Work?

Workers’ compensation is in place to enable workers who are injured on the job to receive benefits while they recover from their injury. To be compensable under California law, the injury must have been caused, at least in part, by the work or work environment. The work injury can be related to physical exertion, job stress, or physical strain that triggers a heart attack.

The work condition or stressor can be a single incident or a long-term condition or stressor. An example of a single stressor might involve a worker with a history of high blood pressure, who is required to lift heavy objects as part of his or her work. An example of a long-term condition or stressor might involve a person who works in a high-stress job, such as a salesperson that is under stress to meet goals and deadlines and has a heart attack at work. If you or a loved one had a heart attack at work and the work or the work environment caused the heart attack, you should apply for workers’ compensation.

The Issue of Apportionment

A heart attack is one example of a medical injury that almost always occurs because of an underlying preexisting condition. Most heart attack victims have had a heart condition or underlying cardiovascular condition for years before a heart attack occurs. Under California law, if the work aggravates the preexisting condition sufficiently to cause a heart attack, the worker is entitled to workers’ comp benefits. If there is evidence of a causal relationship between the work and the injury, a worker is entitled to benefits. The question of how much in benefits is handled by apportionment.

Apportionment is a complex area of the law. All apportionment of any permanent disability must be based on causation. A doctor must make an apportionment of the injury by determining what percentage of the permanent disability was directly caused by a worker’s course of employment and what percentage was caused by other factors.

An employer is only liable for the percentage of the disability due to the aggravation of any preexisting disease or condition that can reasonably be attributed to the injury.  (Labor Code Section 4663). 

Courts have been split on the issue of apportionment in cases with preexisting conditions. Some courts have found that where the work aggravated or “lit up” the preexisting condition, the employer must pay compensation to the worker for the entire injury. Other courts have mandated apportionment in cases where the disability is caused partly by a work injury and partly from the normal progress of the underlying condition. This may feel a little like splitting hairs.

Expert medical testament is usually required. A Qualified Medical Examiner specializing in cardiology must be consulted on the issue of causation in a case of a heart attack.

These cases are complex and require a great deal of legal and medical expertise to resolve. And small facts matter. The stakes are high in these cases. Often, a heart attack will preclude a worker from further employment. Therefore, if you have suffered a heart attack in the workplace, work with an experienced El Monte workers’ compensation attorney whom you trust.