A truck driver and his wife worked together as team drivers. They were given a trailer that was missing a mud flap. They continued driving because they did not have the means to make the repair. As the man drove, the wife went to bed in the sleeper portion of the truck cab. Approximately two hours later, she woke up, and they were at a truck stop. The driver was not in the truck, but the wife noticed emergency vehicles outside. As she exited the truck, she noticed a mud flap had been installed on the trailer. The general manager transported her to the hospital where the driver had been pronounced dead due to a heart attack.
The wife did not see the driver change the mud flap on the day he died, but she concluded that he did because she saw it installed and found a receipt for its purchase in his wallet.
A witness at the truck stop saw the driver exit his truck, and no more than one minute later, he fell over. The temperature at the time of the accident was 106 degrees, and the driver had burns on his body from the hot pavement. The witness also said the driver had asked to borrow some tools before he collapsed.
The driver had previously suffered from high blood pressure but had passed a physical examination required for his job. The driver was also obese.
The administrative judge found the driver's heart attack was compensable, and the Arkansas Workers' Compensation Commission agreed, finding that exposure to heat while installing a new mud flap was the major cause of the driver's heart attack and death.
Was the commission correct in awarding workers' comp benefits for the driver's fatal heart attack?
A. Yes. The evidence allowed for an inference that the driver replaced the mud flaps alone in a hot environment with less than ideal tools for the job.
B. No. No evidence established what actually happened before the driver collapsed and died.
C. No. The driver's preexisting conditions contributed to his heart attack.
How the court ruled: A.
The Arkansas Court of Appeals held that the driver's heart attack was compensable. J Mar Express, Inc. v. Poteete, No. CA10-894 (Ark. Ct. App. 02/16/11).
In Arkansas, a death-resulting heart attack is compensable when extraordinary and unusual work-related activity is the injury's majority cause. The court said it was reasonable to infer that the driver installed the new mud flap on the trailer.
B is incorrect. The court said fair-minded persons could reach the decision of the commission. Circumstantial evidence is sufficient to support an award.
C is incorrect. The court said the driver had no history of heart problems. Despite preexisting propensities for such an event, the driver had previously performed his job duties without restrictions and was able to report to work each day and perform his duties. The court explained that a person who had predisposing factors may suffer a heart attack that is caused by something other than the predisposing factors, and the existence of predisposing factors is merely causal evidence for the commission to consider.
is the legal editor of the WorkersComp Forum.
This feature is not intended as instructional material or to replace legal advice.
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March 17, 2011
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