Are You a Police Officer or Firefighter Who Developed Heart Disease While On the Job? You May Be Entitled to Special Compensation
A successful workers’ compensation claim generally requires proof of “causation,” i.e., that the employee’s injury or illness arose out of and in the course of their employment. Put another way, your employer does not have to compensate you for injuries or illnesses that you develop outside of work. This does not necessarily mean that non-work-related factors did not contribute to your condition, only that some work-related incident was a “substantial factor.”
But there are specific situations where an employee does not need to prove causation. For example, Section 7-433c provides a special benefit via the workers’ compensation system to certain firemen and police officers who develop hypertension or heart disease while on the job. Technically, this is not workers’ compensation, but rather a special “bonus” created by the legislature. You are only eligible to claim this bonus if you meet all of the following conditions:
- You are a uniformed or regular member of a paid municipal fire or police department.
- You were hired before July 1, 1996.
- You passed a pre-employment physical exam that showed no evidence of hypertension or heart disease.
If you meet these requirements and later develop hypertension or heart disease while still serving in uniform, you may claim benefits under Section 7-433c. Unlike traditional workers’ compensation cases, you do not need to actually prove causation. The statute creates a “conclusive presumption” that your condition is due to your job.
CT Supreme Court: Hypertension, Heart Attack Are Not Necessarily “Separate” Events
In a pair of decisions issued on March 10, 2020, the Connecticut Supreme Court made some important clarifications to the application of Section 7-433c. Both cases involved eligible uniformed employees who developed both hypertension and heart disease. The legal disputes centered on whether the employees acted properly to claim benefits for their heart disease, which only developed after they retired from their respective jobs.
In the first case, Coughlin v. Stamford, the employee worked as a Stamford firefighter from 1975 to 2013. In 2016, the Workers’ Compensation Commission awarded the employee benefits under Section 7-433c for his hypertension. Also in 2016, the employee’s doctors determined he also had coronary artery disease. The employee sought additional benefits for this condition, but the Commission held Section 7-433c did not apply, since the diagnosis did not occur until after the employee’s retirement, and his heart disease “was a separate and distinct injury from his hypertension.”
The Supreme Court disagreed. It held that based on “unchallenged” medical evidence from the employee’s doctor, the “hypertension was a significant factor in the development of his heart disease.” The heart disease was therefore not a new claim under Section 7-433c, but rather an extension of the previous, timely filed claim.
In the Court’s second decision, Dickerson v. Stamford, the Court likewise held that an eligible employee does not have to file a “new claim” when they develop heart disease as a result of previously compensated hypertension. The employee in this case worked as a Stamford police officer. He was diagnosed with hypertension before retiring in 2004, and suffered a heart attack in 2014. The employee maintained the heart attack was the direct result of his hypertension. The city insisted that it was a “separate” event and required the employee to file an entirely new claim. Again, the Supreme Court disagreed. Consistent with its decision in Coughlin, the Court said that if the evidence does show the employee’s heart attack was connected to his earlier hypertension, that would qualify as a continuation of the earlier claim, not an entirely new one.
Speak with a Board-Certified CT Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Today
The rules governing workers’ compensation and related benefits are often difficult for employees to fully understand. This is why it is critical to work with an experienced Stratford workers’ compensation attorney who can guide you through the process. Contact the Morizio Law Firm today to schedule a free confidential consultation.