Court: Comp Benefits Due to Restaurant Manager Despite Being Smoker

By Roberto Ceniceros

Jan. 6, 2012

A restaurant manager and chef who had smoked for about 30 years is entitled to workers’ compensation benefits because heavy work-related lifting likely contributed to his heart attack, a Pennsylvania appellate court has ruled.

The claimant was moving beer kegs in 2008 when he experienced chest pains, according to a Jan. 4 ruling by the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania in Pittsburgh, in Edmondo Bemis v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board.

He suffered similar pains three days later when lifting a heavy pot of chili, was hospitalized for several days, and later underwent quintuple bypass surgery.

Bemis—who smoked for 30 years according to the appellate court’s ruling—eventually filed for workers’ comp benefits, claiming that his work injury worsened until he needed the surgery and that he was totally disabled.

But his employer denied the allegations, and the case went before a workers’ comp judge.

A cardiologist for Bemis opined that the lifting incidents probably precipitated his myocardial event. The doctor also said the claimant’s physical exertion resulted in a further narrowing of his coronary arteries, thereby decreasing the blood supply to his heart and resulting in the chest pain and myocardial damage.

A doctor representing the employer opined that the claimant’s heavy lifting may have caused a plaque rupture that led to an acute heart attack. But he also stated that the medical records did not show such a rupture and that he only thought it was a likely sequence of events.

The workers’ comp judge concluded that the testimony of the doctor for Bemis was equivocal and legally insufficient to establish a link between his on-the-job lifting and subsequent heart attack.

The judge denied his workers’ comp petition. An appeals board agreed and Bemis appealed to the Commonwealth Court.

But the appellate court panel found unanimously that the man’s doctor provided unequivocal medical testimony causally connecting the work incidents to a heart attack.

Among other testimony the claimant’s doctor said that while the artery plaque buildup was not caused by the claimant’s work, the stress of the lifting caused an irritation of his arteries. That resulted in an increased narrowing and decreased blood flow to claimant’s heart, the doctor said.

“Based upon our review of (the doctor’s) testimony as a whole, we must conclude that the (workers’ comp judge and the appeals board) erred in concluding that his testimony was equivocal,” the appellate court ruled.

The court remanded the case, with an order for the workers’ comp judge to calculate benefits that are due to Bemis.

Roberto Ceniceros writes for Business Insurance, a sister publication of Workforce Management.

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