Can Coloradans seek workers’ compensation for job-related heart attacks?

Victims of job-related heart attacks may be able to seek compensation in Colorado, provided the event resulted from unusual exertion or firefighting duties.

Many jobs in Denver require workers to deal with a substantial level of physical strain or emotional stress. Sadly, in some cases these demanding jobs may put workers at risk for serious health conditions such as heart attacks. As The Huffington Post notes, severe anxiety, anger and physical overexertion all have the potential to trigger a heart attack.

As most people know, the occurrence of an injury or illness in the course of a worker's job may provide grounds for a workers' compensation claim. In Colorado, workers' compensation law allows employees to seek benefits after suffering work-related heart attacks. However, state law also establishes distinct standards for these unusual cases.

Unusual exertion standard

Under the 2012 Workers' Compensation Act, a heart attack that occurs while a worker is performing his or her job is not automatically considered a work-related injury. Instead, the victim must prove that the heart attack occurred because he or she was subjected to unusual levels of exertion in the course of his or her job.

Under this standard, the level of exertion that an employee typically faces during work can be decisive. If a worker who regularly engages in strenuous lifting suffers a heart attack while doing the same type of work, the exertion might not qualify as unusual. If an employee who normally performs sedentary work suffers a heart attack while engaging in physical labor that is outside of the scope of his or her normal duties, the exertion might be considered unusual.

Exceptions for firefighters

In 2014, Colorado lawmakers passed legislation to address the availability of workers' compensation benefits for firefighters who suffer heart attacks in the course of their typically strenuous jobs. The law, which became effective on Jan. 1, 2015, stipulates that firefighters do not need to prove that they suffered from a cardiac event as a result of unusual exertion. However, they must show that their performance of their job duties directly caused the event.

Notably, this law does not require a heart attack or other cardiac event to occur while a firefighter is on the job. According to The Longmont Times-Call, this legislation was drafted after firefighters in the Denver metro area were denied workers' compensation benefits for cardiac events that occurred after a stressful call, while the firefighters were off duty. Now, if a firefighter suffers a heart attack within 48 hours of a strenuous work event, he or she may be able to seek compensation.

Challenges of securing compensation

Unfortunately, for workers in most other industries, obtaining workers' compensation benefits for a work-related heart attack may prove challenging. People who regularly perform fairly physical work may have trouble demonstrating that their cases meet the unusual exertion standard. It may also be difficult for workers with preexisting health conditions to establish that their on-the-job actions were the proximate cause of a heart attack.

Given these potential hurdles, people who have suffered heart attacks or other cardiac events while performing their jobs may benefit from consulting with an attorney. A workers' compensation attorney may be able to offer advice on documenting the event that triggered the heart attack and demonstrating that it constituted unusual exertion.