Can a Heart Attack be Considered a Work Injury?

Under Iowa law, if you meet the medical and legal requirements then yes, a heart attack can be considered a work injury.  In order to prove that your heart attack was work-related, you must prove both medical and legal causation in order to recover for a heart attack. 

How do I prove medical causation? 

The medical causation part is done obtaining reports and taking the depositions of the injured workers treating doctors and often independent medical examiners who review records and conduct a physical examination, if possible. These doctors can include your family physician, cardiologist, occupational medicine physician, and others. It is very important that you or your lawyer obtain the opinions of your treating medical providers as soon as possible. Often, insurance companies will immediately contact your doctors once you bring a claim. They may not tell your doctor all the facts and may even lie to your doctor in an attempt to obtain an opinion letter that your heart attack is not work-related. The opinions of your treating medical providers are very important in proving your heart attack work injury claim. Also, once your doctors put in writing their opinions it can be difficult to get them to, later on, change that opinion. We help our clients by promptly meeting with their doctors to get the opinions that we need to prove the medical causation part of their case.    

How do I prove legal causation?

The legal causation part is a bit trickier and there are 3 ways to prove it: 

(1) When heavy exertions ordinarily required by work are superimposed on a defective heart, aggravating or accelerating the preexisting condition.

(2) Instances of an unusually existing diseased condition.

(3) When the damage resulted from continued exertions required by the employment after the onset of the heart attack (compelled to continue working). 

Below are some factual examples of injured workers proving their heart attack was work-related:

The claimant drove a truck and also unloaded equipment for a recreation equipment company. He died at work while at an equipment shop. Deputy Commissioner awarded death benefits. 

Claimant's proof focused on the first legal causation test set forth in Sondag and Riley.  The Deputy Commissioner held that medical causation was established and that Claimant's exertion at work on the date of death was greater than the exertion he experienced in his non-employment life. Prentice v. Miracle Recreation Equip. Co., File No. 1232407 (Arb. Dec. 1/11/01). 

An over-the-road truck driver sustained a heart attack and it was found to be compensable as he was required to finish his load despite having chest pain. P.D.S.I. and Travelers Ins. Co. v. Peterson, 685 N.W.2d 627 (Iowa 2004). 

Below are other factual examples of injured workers who failed to prove their heart attack was work-related:

Claimant was a bridge builder, suffered a heart attack after day's work, and later died. Deputy Commissioner denied benefits. Commissioner affirmed. Claimant pursued this heart attack case primarily under the first two legal causation tests in Sondag and Riley. The Commissioner held that Claimant was not involved in any heavy physical or unusually strenuous activity on the date of death, and his work activity was not heavy when compared to his common non-work activity. Danger v. Welden Bros., Inc., File No. 1255002 (Arb. Dec. 3/06/01) (affirmed by Commissioner on 3/28/03). 

Claimant truck driver suffered a heart attack after parking his truck and later died. Deputy Commissioner and Commissioner held that Claimant was not compelled to continue driving and denied benefits.  Hart v. Allied Sys., Ltd., 2002 WL 1585596 (Iowa App. 2002).

As you can see, these cases are very fact-specific and it is a rare case that the workers' compensation insurance company will voluntarily pay benefits for a heart attack claim. If you or a loved one have sustained a heart attack that you think is work-related then you should immediately seek legal help from a qualified Iowa work comp lawyer. There is a timeline as short at 90 days for you to provide written notification to your employer that you are pursuing a work injury claim for the heart attack. Also, the longer you wait, the more difficult it may be to prove that the heart attack as work-related.  If you have questions or concerns we offer you a no-cost, no-risk work injury review so call now 641-792-3595.

If you are not yet ready to call a lawyer but would like some more information about Iowa's workers' compensation system, then request your copy of our book entitled called “Iowa Workers’ Compensation- An Insider’s Guide to Work Injuries” which includesDeadly Mistakes to Avoid if You are Hurt at Work."  We offer our Iowa work injury book at no cost because we have seen too many hard-working Iowans from Cedar Rapids, Des Moines, Ft. Dodge, Newton, Pella, and throughout the state of Iowa hurt at work job make mistakes which cost them thousands of dollars. Iowans hurt at work are beginning to realize that the insurance company is not there to help them and that they should learn about Iowa's workers' compensation laws. Finally, there is a book about Iowa's work injuries that you can review in the comfort of your own home. 

Should I apply for Social Security Disability (SSDI)?

It depends upon your age, the severity of your injuries, if you have done a valid job search, etc. Overall, I would not recommend that you immediately file for SSDI for a number of reasons including:

            1.  In the eyes of some of our workers' compensation judges filing for SSDI too soon can significantly reduce the value of your case because it shows a lack of motivation. If you are released to return to work with restrictions, then you should do a valid job search before determining if you should file for SSDI or not. 

            2. The SSDI process can take several years in order to get a hearing before an administrative law judge.

            3. If you are under 55 years of age it is more difficult to obtain SSDI than if you are 55 years or older. 

We help our clients navigate workers comp, employment law, unemployment law, and Social Security Disability in order to achieve the best outcome for them.


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Corey Walker
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With over 22 years legal experience, Corey has been recognized for his work as an injury attorney.