Saturday, March 7, 2009

MN Firefighters and Police Officers and Work-Related Heart Attacks

Some occupations are more stressful than others, including the occupations of firefighter and police officer. Studies have shown that police officers are more susceptible to high blood pressure, heart disease, and heart attacks. The Minnesota Legislature has recognized the increased risks firefighters and police officers are exposed to in the course and scope of their job duties. As such, the legislature enacted Minn.Stat. 176.011, Subd. 15(b), which provides, in pertinent part:

If immediately preceding the date of disablement or death, an employee was employed on active duty with an organized fire or police department of any municipality, as a member of the Minnesota State Patrol, conservation officer service, state crime bureau, as a forest officer by the Department of Natural Resources, state correctional officer, or sheriff or full-time deputy sheriff of any county, and the disease is that of myocarditis, coronary sclerosis, pneumonia or its sequel, and at the time of employment such employee was given a thorough physical examination by a licensed doctor of medicine, and a written report thereof has been made and filed with such organized fire or police department, with the Minnesota State Patrol, conservation officer service, state crime bureau, Department of Natural Resources, Department of Corrections, or sheriff's department of any county, which examination and report negatived any evidence of myocarditis, coronary sclerosis, pneumonia or its sequel, the disease is presumptively an occupational disease and shall be presumed to have been due to the nature of employment.
What this means is that when an active duty firefighter, police officer, forest officer, correction officer, or sheriff suffers myocarditis, coronary sclerosis, or pneumonia, those diseases are presumed to be occupational diseases, so long as a pre-employment physical did not indicate any presence of those types of diseases.

Occupational diseases are covered under Minnesota Workers’ compensation, and victims of occupational diseases are eligible for medical benefits, wage loss benefits, permanency benefits, and rehabilitation benefits.

This statutory presumption, however, does not mean that the workers’ compensation insurance company will automatically admit liability when a firefighter or police officer has suffered a heart attack or other covered condition. In fact, in our experience, insurance companies tend to ignore the presumption all together. If they do recognize the presumption, the employer and/or insurer may still try to rebut the statutory presumption by arguing that the heart attack, myocarditis, coronary sclerosis, pneumonia, or myocardial infarction was caused by something other than work-related stress. Commonly they point to other factors, such as a history of smoking, poor diet, family history, non-work-related stressors, or obesity. If you’re a Minnesota firefighter, police officer, corrections officer, sheriff, or forest officer, and you've experienced a heart attack or other heart condition because of your work, you should consult an experienced workers’ compensation attorney to make sure you get the workers’ compensation benefits you are entitled to.

In addition to workers’ compensation benefits, including medical benefits, wage loss benefits, permanency benefits, and rehabilitation benefits, if the police officer or firefighter cannot return to his or her former occupation, there may be other benefits available. Additional benefits may include PERA, MFRA, or MSRS duty-disability pension benefits, and healthcare continuation benefits under Minn.Stat. 299A.465.

Meuser & Associates has successfully represented several police officers and firefighters who suffered work-related heart attacks in claims for workers’ compensation benefits, duty-disability benefits, and healthcare continuation benefits. Call us at 877-746-5680 or click here to send us an email to schedule a free consultation.

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