Disability Award Upheld for Heart Attack Victim

By Staff Report

Mar. 2, 2009

An administrative assistant who had a heart attack at home after hearing her job would be terminated was entitled to accidental disability retirement benefits, the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled.

Claire Cole, an employee of the city of Salem, Massachusetts, was at home on March 22, 2000, when she had the permanently disabling heart attack, according to a February 24 ruling in Retirement Board of Salem v. Contributory Retirement Appeal Board.

The heart attack occurred within one hour of experiencing emotional distress when a supervisor told her that her job would be cut.

Cole, who later died, did not return to work. Court records state that when Cole applied for benefits, “lengthy and tortuous administrative and judicial proceedings” ensued.

Eventually, in 2006, the Contributory Retirement Appeal Board ruled Cole’s heart attack was caused by stress due to hearing her position would be cut and that her communication with her supervisor about the termination occurred during the course of employment.

The Retirement Board of Salem appealed, arguing that Cole was ineligible because her injury did not occur during the performance of her work. But a trial court affirmed granting her benefits.

The Supreme Court upheld the trial court’s decision, finding that the benefits now belong to Cole’s estate because “benefits may permissibly be awarded only when a disabling injury is sustained during the performance of work duties and not merely as a result of being at work when injured.”

Filed by Roberto Ceniceros of Business Insurance, a sister publication of Workforce Management. To comment, e-mail

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