Cunningham v. City of Savannah, No. W2010-02411-WC-R3-WC (Tenn. 02/28/12).
Ruling: The Tennessee Supreme Court held that an investigator's heart attack was compensable.
What it means: Tennessee law created a rebuttable presumption that heart disease or hypertension suffered by a law enforcement officer is caused by his employment. Once the statutory presumption is overcome, the officer must prove causation.
Summary: An undercover drug investigator for a city was conducting a drug "buy-bust" operation. He had an altercation with the drug dealer and began to feel "pressure" in his chest, weakness, and shortness of breath. His symptoms continued over the next two days, and he also experienced fatigue, difficulty breathing, "occasional sharp pain," and a "heaviness" in his chest. He continued to work. Three days later, the tightness in his chest worsened when he was using a bulldozer at a friend's home to move a pile of brush and debris. After he returned home, he went to the emergency room. A cardiologist concluded that he was having an acute myocardial infarction. The investigator sought workers' compensation benefits, alleging that the heart attack was a result of stressors related to being undercover when working numerous hours. The Tennessee Supreme Court held that the investigator was entitled to benefits.
The court found that the city overcame the statutory presumption that heart disease suffered by law enforcement officers is caused by their employment. The city showed that there was not a substantial causal connection between the investigator's heart attack and his job. The city presented evidence that the investigator's preexisting coronary artery disease was caused by smoking and high cholesterol and that his actual heart attack was three days after the work incident and not caused by his employment.
However, the court found the investigator established causation. More weight was given to the investigator's treating physician's opinion that the heart attack began on the date of the drug bust. The investigator showed that his cardiac symptoms developed while he was engaged in an emotionally stressful and physically demanding arrest of a drug dealer while working.
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May 14, 2012
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