A recent news article highlighted a legal opinion concerning the availability of death benefits under workers compensation laws for the spouse of an employee who dies after suffering a heart attack after engaging in physical labor at work.[i] With several factors contributing to heart conditions, courts must apply the facts to the law and determine whether an event such as a heart attack meets the criteria for workers’ compensation benefits. In most instances, workers’ compensation benefits are paid for actual injuries that are caused, in whole or in part, by the employee’s work. Workers may also be compensated for aggravation of a pre-existing condition. Injuries are accidental if they happen unexpectedly, without plan or design. This includes injuries brought on by the repetitive use of a part of the body, as well as strokes, heart attacks or any other physical problem caused by work.[ii]
The Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act
Most employees employed in the State of Illinois are covered by the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act[iii] ( the “Act”) when they begin employment. Independent contractors, for example, might not be considered employees for purposes of coverage by the Act. If an employee is injured, in whole or in part, from the employee’s work, that employee (or spouse in the event of death) may apply to receive worker’s compensation benefits. The categories of benefits available to eligible employees include medical care; temporary and permanent partial and full disability; vocational rehabilitation and maintenance; and death benefits for surviving family members.
Employees are eligible for workers’ compensation benefits if their injury is a result of work. In the instance of a person suffering a heart attack, it must be proven that the heart attack was partially or wholly caused by the activities performed at their workplace. The cause of a heart attack can be difficult to identify, especially if there are other factors, such as a known heart condition. In the event a claim for workers’ compensation benefits is denied, the applicant has the option of appealing the denial and making their case before an administrative law judge of the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission (the “Commission”), the state agency that administers the judicial process of resolving disputed benefit claims.
Employees should be aware of their rights under the law and what to do if they are injured at work.
State law requires employers to post legal notices for employees, identifying important workplace laws, including workers’ compensation. The law required employers to provide workers’ compensation insurance or to self-insure when they receive permission to do so from the Commission. The law also protects employees from retaliatory termination as a result of their making an application for workers’ compensation benefits. However, the employer may have a right to change the nature of an employee’s work after an injury. In the case of the individual with a nonfatal heart attack, the employer may reconsider workplace conditions to prevent another heart attack or further injury.
Workplace injuries should be reported to the employer as soon as they are able. Injuries must be reported within 45 days of the event causing injury and within 90 days for injuries sustained in connection with excessive radiation exposure. It is important to notify the employer quickly because a delay could lead to a denial of coverage, especially when time passes and the cause of the employee’s injury may become less clear. In the event a claim for workers’ compensation is denied, the applicant may appeal the denial and proceed in the administrative judicial system.
The administrative legal process can be complicated and it is smart to use experienced legal counsel.
Chicago health law and litigation attorney, Michael V. Favia and the associate attorneys of Michael V. Favia and Associates, P.C. represent injured workers in the process of applying for and when necessary, litigating workers’ compensation matters before the administrative law judges at the Commission. The workers’ compensation page on the firm’s website has more helpful information.
With offices conveniently located in the Chicago Loop, Northwest side and suburban meeting locations, you can schedule a discrete meeting with an attorney at your convenience and discretion. For more about Michael V. Favia & Associates, please visit www.favialawfirm.com and feel free to “Like” the firm on Facebook and “Follow” the firm on Twitter. You can also review endorsements and recommendations for Michael V. Favia on his Avvo.com profile and on LinkedIn.
[i] The National Law Review, Worker’s Comp: Is Fatal Heart Attack Following Work Exertion Compensable? By Joanna Vilos, Jan. 7, 2016.