Safety and OSHA News

Worker dies from on-job heart attack: Should widow get comp?

A worker had a heart attack during a particularly stressful day at work and died a week later. His widow applied for workers’ comp benefits, and the company denied them. How did a court rule? 

Edward Kilcullen worked as a process operator at the Albany International Airport’s glycol facility which produces glycol for de-icing and filters it from runoff water in the airport’s drainage system.

On Dec. 14, 2010, Kilcullen suffered a heart attack and collapsed while responding to a frozen valve in the facility’s treatment system.

Kilcullen never regained consciousness after his heart attack and died on Dec. 21, 2010.

His wife filed a claim for workers’ comp benefits, including death benefits. His employer, AFCO/AVPORTS Management LLC (a provider of services at airports) denied the claim.

A Workers’ Compensation Law Judge found Kilcullen’s work contributed to his heart attack and his death arose out of and in the course of employment. The Workers’ Compensation Board agreed. The company appealed.

A New York appeals court recently affirmed the decision to grant Kilcullen’s widow workers’ comp benefits.

The record shows that shortly before he collapsed, Kilcullen was told to add insulation in an attempt to fix the frozen valve. To do so, he had to go outside at night across snow-covered ground in freezing temperatures to retrieve additional insulation from storage.

The pressure was on Kilcullen and his co-workers. If they weren’t able to quickly fix the frozen valve that evening, the treatment facility would need to be shut down.

A doctor who specializes in diagnostic cardiology testified that Kilcullen’s work immediately before his heart attack, combined with the weather and the stress of needing to fix the crucial valve, were significant contributing factors to his heart attack and death.

Another cardiologist who reviewed Kilcullen’s medical records on behalf of the company wasn’t able to link the heart attack to his employment.

The appeals court noted that when medical testimony conflicts, it’s up to the Board to decide which evidence to give more weight.

The court also noted:

 “One man or woman with inadequate cardiac reserve who continues nevertheless in employment may find the performance of physical work too strenuous for him or her at a particular time and under particular conditions when the same work would not adversely affect other men or women under any conditions; or even that particular man or woman at other times under similar physical conditions.”

Therefore, despite evidence that might support overturning the Board’s decision, the appeals court found Kilcullen’s heart attack was causally related to his employment. The court ordered the company and its insurance carrier to award Kilcullen’s widow workers’ comp benefits.

What do you think about this case? Let us know in the comments.

(Rita Kilcullen v. AFCO/AVPORTS Management LLC, State of NY Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Third Judicial Department, No. 520118, 4/21/16)

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  1. I suppose the question is but for these workplace stresses would have he had the heart attack?

    Does the question of person health and responsibility come into it.?


  1. […] One worker in New York recently experienced an on-the-job death which gave rise to questions about whether his widow should be entitled to receive workers’ compensation benefits.  The death happened due to a heart attack, according to Safety News Alert. […]

  2. […] Worker dies from on-job heart attack: Should widow get comp? Can you prove that work stress caused a fatal heart attack? […]

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