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Workers' Compensation - Heart Attacks May Be Covered

Heart Attacks May Be Covered

Recently, the Illinois Supreme Court held that a person who has a heart attack while on the job may be entitled to workers' compensation benefits. The case involved a high school shop teacher who had a heart attack while he and his class were hurrying to complete a house they were building as a class project. The project was over five weeks behind schedule and the teacher had to closely supervise his students while they worked with dangerous tools and on a dangerous work site. Based on medical testimony that the heart attack was caused by a stress-induced ulcer, the court found that the teacher's heart attack was likely caused by the stress of his job, and therefore he could recover workers' compensation benefits.

The court rejected the argument made by the teacher's employer that the stress he was under was no different than the stress any teacher suffers. The court noted that the workers' compensation law allows workers to recover for stress-related injuries if the stress being suffered is greater than the stress typically suffered by "the general public." If the school district's position was correct, employers could subject all their employees to "outrageous working conditions of extreme stress," but the employees who were injured by this high level of stress would not be able to recover for their injuries because their co-workers were also subject to the same stress. Rather than allow employers to subject employees to harmful amounts of stress without liability, the court ruled that workers who suffer injuries caused by excessive stress can recover under the Workers' Compensation Act.

Although we usually think of work-related injuries as more directly related to the work being performed, this is not always the case. Even injuries that are not directly "caused" by the employee's work may be covered under the Illinois Workers' Compensation Act.

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