Driver's preexisting heart disease, risk factors scuttle widow's claim
Puller v. Fairfax School Board, No. 0886-11-4 (Va. Ct. App. 12/06/11, unpublished).
In an unpublished decision, the Virginia Court of Appeals held that a driver's widow was not entitled to death benefits.
What it means: In Virginia, no presumption that a worker's death arose out of and in the course of employment exists when the worker suffers from preexisting heart disease and subsequently dies of cardiac arrest at work.
Summary: A mail delivery truck driver for a school board had a fixed route and an assigned van. His job duties primarily involved driving or going into and out of buildings delivering and picking up mail. At his last stop, his van was spotted in reverse next to the curb and some bushes. The driver was discovered inside lying face down in the cargo area of the van. He had numerous burns on his body. He was later pronounced dead. An autopsy revealed coronary artery disease and that the burn marks occurred after death. His cause of death was cardiovascular disease. The driver's widow sought workers' compensation benefits, asserting that the heat caused the driver's heart attack. The Virginia Court of Appeals held that the widow was not entitled to death benefits.
The court explained that the death presumption was not applicable because the driver had a preexisting heart condition and died of cardiac arrest while at work.
Conflicting medical testimony existed as to whether the driver's cardiac arrest was causally related to excessive heat exposure or his preexisting coronary artery disease. The court said that credible evidence supported a finding that the driver's death resulted solely from his preexisting condition, based on the autopsy results. The driver also had risk factors, including hypertension, diabetes, hypercholesterolemia, and cigarette smoking.
The widow pointed to evidence that the temperature in the van was higher than the workers' compensation commission found. A police report discussed the heat levels found on the metal floor of the van. However, the heat on the floor of the van at a time after the driver's death did not prove the temperature of the air in the van at the time of his death.
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January 12, 2012
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