The case of Haynes v. Hall, decided in New Jersey Workers' Compensation Court by Judge George Gangloff on May 26, illustrates that even though an employee might have a pre-existing health problem, the Court can still find the employee is entitled to compensation and a disability award when an incident occurs at the workplace.
While doing physical labor on November 1, 2010, an employee allegedly suffered a heart attack. The Court heard testimony from the employee and a witness for the employee, two witnesses for the employer as well as doctors on behalf of each party. The employee testified that he and others carried multiple bags of garbage weighing up to 50 pounds down several flights of steps 20 to 25 times to remove trash. There was dispute as to whether an elevator was available, but the employee and a co-worker testified it could not be used for their job. The employee developed shortness of breath, tingling in his arms and severe chest pain. He drove himself to the hospital after notifying his employer of his condition. At the hospital, he was diagnosed as having a heart attack and underwent cardiac catheterization and stent implant. It was also noted that a 90 percent stenosis was found in the right main coronary.
After hearing all testimony and weighing the evidence, the Judge found the employee and his witness credible and described the employee's activities as "ardous." The Court followed the criteria established in the Supreme Court case of Hellwig, noting the work effort must be a substantial condition, event or happening, work activity must be in excess of normal wear and tear of daily living and work effort must have caused to a material degree the injury. The Judge determined all three criteria were met.
Since both experts believed that the employee had a heart attack, Judge Gangloff found the heart attack was compensable and awarded permanency. He furthermore noted that both medical experts agreed that the employee had a pre-existing stenosis, but neither expert thought that the employee suffered from a measurable, pre-existing functional loss or disability. As such, the Court found the employer had not met its burden of proving that it was entitled to a credit for pre-existing disability.
Comment: Even though the employee had a 90 percent blockage of his right main coronary, the Court found that if he had been allowed to use the elevator or could have carried less weight taking more time between trips, the heart attack may not have occurred.
Sara L. De Long