Police Officers, Firefighters, and Heart Attacks

02.13.2020 Written by: Henningson & Snoxell, Ltd.

Police officers and firefighters are at a greater risk for heart problems than the general public due to the stressful nature of their jobs. Police officers face a 30 -70 times increased risk of death due to cardiac issues compared to the general public when they are involved in stressful situations. The extreme heat that firefighters face in their job duties has been linked to an increased risk of heart attacks. Additionally, intense physical demands can trigger blood clots and impair blood vessel function.

Just like a specific injury or a repetitive motion injury, heart attacks are considered an occupational disease and are covered under the Minnesota Workers’ Compensation Act. Officers or firefighters do not have to suffer a heart attack while physically on the job or a certain number of hours after a shift; they may suffer a heart attack or heart issues built up over time.

Police officers or firefighters suffering a heart attack or from heart problems may be entitled to benefits under the Minnesota Workers’ Compensation Act, including medical benefits, wage loss benefits, and rehabilitation services. An employee does not need to remain an employee of the date of injury employer to receive these benefits. Additionally, police officers or firefighters with heart issues who are no longer able to return to work may be entitled to work comp benefits, PERA or MSRS Duty Disability Benefits, and Healthcare Continuation Benefits under Minnesota Statute § 299A.465. 

The Heart Attack Presumption

The Minnesota Legislature has recognized that these professions suffer from an increased risk of heart attacks by enacting Minnesota Statute § 176.011, subdivision 15(b), or the Heart Attack Presumption. The Minnesota Worker’s Compensation Act provides for a few types of statutory presumptions, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) for first responders, the cancer presumption for firefighters, and the heart attack presumption for firefighters and police officers. These presumptions recognize that certain professions are more likely to develop these conditions due to their occupation.

Burden of Proof

Generally, an employees or injured workers have the burden of proof to show entitlement to workers’ compensation benefits. This means that employees must demonstrate to the workers’ compensation judge that it is more likely than not that they should receive the benefits that are being denied or contested by the employer and insurer. This is a different burden of proof than in a criminal case.

If, however, an injured worker can show that requisite elements of the presumption statute have been met, then the burden of proof shifts and the condition is presumed to be work-related. The employer and insurer may rebut the presumption; however, to invalidate the legal presumption they must show compelling evidence that the condition is not work-related.

The Heart Attack Presumption reads in part:

If … an employee was employed on active duty with an organized fire or police department … 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 … 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. Minn. Stat. § 176.011, subd. 15(b).

As long as a pre-employment physical did not indicate the presence of myocarditis, coronary sclerosis, pneumonia, or its sequel, then the condition is presumed to be work-related if the firefighter or peace officer was employed on active duty before disablement or death.

Just because the Heart Attack Presumption applies does not mean that the insurer or self-insured employer will admit the injury. Unfortunately, in presumption cases, insurers typically pretend the presumption does not exist and deny the claim outright. They then look for reasons to rebut the presumption. However, with the right medical reports supporting causation these claims may be established and employees may receive the compensation they deserve.

mary beth boyce

If you or someone you know is suffering from a heart condition due to his or her work as a firefighter or police officer, contact Mary Beth Boyce at (763) 560-5700 at Henningson & Snoxell, Ltd. for a free, no-obligation consultation to review your rights under the Minnesota Workers’ Compensation Act, PERA or MSRS Duty Disability benefits, and Healthcare Continuation Benefits under Minnesota Statute § 299A.465.

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