A restaurant manager suffered a heart attack and underwent quintuple bypass surgery. He says he felt chest pains after lifting heavy loads at work. However, he was also a smoker for 30 years. Was the heart attack work-related, and will he get workers’ comp?
Edmondo Bemis worked for Perkiomen Grille Corp. as a chef and manager. One day he was moving kegs of beer in a walk-in cooler when he felt pain in his chest.
Three days later he felt the same chest pain while lifting a heavy pot of chili. After this episode he ended up in the hospital for three days. He went back to work but had heart bypass surgery six weeks later.
Bemis filed a claim for workers’ comp benefits, saying he suffered a work-related injury on the day he was moving kegs of beer.
At a hearing by a workers’ comp judge (WCJ), Bemis’s cardiologist testified that the lifting incidents at work certainly could have and probably did precipitate Bemis’s heart attack. The doctor said Bemis’s physical exertion on those days resulted in a further narrowing of his coronary arteries, decreasing the blood supply to his heart and resulting in the chest pain and heart damage.
The WCJ accepted the doctor’s testimony but found it was subject to more than one interpretation and legally insufficient to establish that lifting at work was a cause of Bemis’s heart attack.
The Workers’ Comp Board upheld the WCJ ruling. Bemis took his case to a state appeals court, arguing that the WCJ erred in concluding that his doctor’s testimony was subject to more than one interpretation.
The appeals court noted that in cases in which the connection between an employee’s work and his injury is not obvious, including heart attacks, medical testimony must establish that there is a link.
“The law does not require every utterance which escapes the lips of a medical witness on a medical subject to be certain, positive, and without reservation or exception,” the appeals court wrote. “A medical witness’s use of words such as “probably,” “likely,” and “somewhat” will not render an opinion equivocal so long as the testimony, read in its entirety, is unequivocal.”
The court said in this case, the WCJ erred in finding that the testimony of Bemis’s doctor wasn’t sufficient to establish the link between lifting heavy loads at work and his heart attack. The court reversed the WCJ’s decision and sent the case back to the WCJ to calculate Bemis’s workers’ comp benefits.
End result: Bemis will get workers’ comp benefits.
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(Edmondo Bemis vs. Workers’ Compensation Board, Commonwealth Court of PA, No. 2687 C.D. 2010, 12/27/11)