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Was truck driver’s heart attack work-related? Will he get comp?

A truck driver had high blood pressure and high cholesterol. One day while securing a load of steel coils on his truck, he felt chest pains. He was diagnosed as having suffered a heart attack. Will he get workers’ comp? 

Curtis Marvel worked as a truck driver for Roane Transportation Services LLC in Red Bud, IL.

On Oct. 21, 2011, Marvel was securing steel coils to the back of his flatbed truck. Marvel says he felt chest pain similar to a pulled muscle.

He called his dispatcher and said he didn’t think he could continue to secure the load which included putting a 100-pound tarp over it. The dispatcher told Marvel he needed him to “go ahead and get the last binder snapped … in order to start moving, and that [he] could wait and tarp the load as long as [he] had it tarped prior to showing up to [his] destination.”

Marvel returned to work, and finished securing the load. He had to climb on and off the trailer several times and use his full body weight to secure the last chain. After doing that, Marvel started on his route.

More than an hour after starting, Marvel experienced increasing chest pain, exited the interstate and pulled into a truck stop. He entered the truck stop, told a clerk to call 911 and then collapsed.

At a nearby hospital, Marvel was diagnosed with a heart attack. Doctors placed a stent in one of his coronary arteries.

He was discharged after five days. On his way home, Marvel stopped by Roane’s office and was told he was being terminated because he could no longer drive a truck.

Marvel applied for workers’ comp, and Roane denied the claim. The case went to a state court.

His cardiologist testified Marvel had suffered a more severe type of heart attack – that much was pretty certain.

What his cardiologist couldn’t say for sure was what caused the heart attack. The doctor testified:

“That can happen for no reason other than … the burden of cholesterol is too much for the wall of the artery and it just ruptures. So it could occur at any time.”

But the cardiologist also said, “There’s no question that [physical] stress can make heart attacks more common.”

Another cardiologist who examined Marvel said his physical activity on the day of his heart attack was “an exacerbatory factor in regard to amplifying or accelerating” the heart attack.

The trial court ruled Marvel’s heart attack arose out of and in the scope of his employment and awarded him workers’ comp benefits. Roane appealed. The case was recently decided by a special workers’ comp appeals panel of the Tennessee Supreme Court.

Caused by physical exertion?

The appeals panel referred to the doctors’ testimony and found Marvel’s physical exertion at work was likely a factor that provoked the heart attack.

But Roane argued that a law passed by the Tennessee General Assembly, effective July 1, 2014, said that an injury arises out of and in the course and scope of employment “only if it has been shown by a preponderance of the evidence that the employment contributed more than 50% in causing the injury.”

However, the court noted that Marvel’s injury occurred in 2011, and that the new law wasn’t intended to be applied retroactively.

The appeals panel ruled Marvel should get workers’ comp benefits for the heart attack he suffered on the job.

It’s more difficult to prove that a heart attack or stroke is work-related, compared to other types of injuries.

The criteria for a heart attack to be work-related varies from state to state. Some examples:

  • In California, it’s only necessary for an event or conditions at work to contribute to an injury or to aggravate a previous condition. It’s enough to show that work conditions were 35-40% of the cause.
  • In South Carolina, a worker must have been subjected to unusual or extraordinary physical exertion.
  • In Ohio, an employee has to be subject to pressures greater than those occasionally experienced in most types of employment.

(Curtis D. Marvel v. Roane Transportation Services LLC, Supreme Court of TN special workers’ compensation appeals panel, No. E2014-01252-SC-R3-WC, 7/23/15)

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