It should come as no surprise that some workers’ compensation lawsuits can be rather contentious. Employers who are unwilling to pay significant amounts of money for injuries suffered on the job may argue that it wasn’t the work or the premises that caused the problem. Some cases are only settled after multiple appeals, as in the recent case of a Pennsylvania chef.

The Pittsburgh chef and restaurant manager was moving beer kegs at work about four years ago when he started feeling chest pains, according to the ruling this week by the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania. Three days later, he suffered pains again while lifting a heavy pot of chili. After being hospitalized for several days, he had quintuple bypass surgery.

The chef later filed for worker’s comp benefits, claiming that the heavy lifting his job required made his heart problems worse, to the point that he was disabled, needed surgery and couldn’t work. But his employer denied the request on the grounds that the chef had been a smoker for 30 years, and the case went to court.

In the case before a workers’ comp judge, two doctors testified: one for the chef and one on behalf of his employer. The cardiologist for the chef said the heavy lifting resulted in further narrowing of his coronary arteries, which caused the chest pain and heart damage. But the doctor representing the employer said although the chef’s physical exertion may have caused a plaque rupture that led to the heart attack, medical records didn’t show a rupture and it was only a likely, not certain, sequence of events. The workers’ comp judge ruled that the chef’s doctor’s testimony was legally insufficient to show a link between the heavy lifting and the heart attack.

An appeals board agreed with the judge’s decision, after which the chef appealed to the Commonwealth Court. That panel unanimously found that the chef’s doctor did, in fact, provide unequivocal testimony establishing a direct link between his work and the heart attack. The case was remanded and the workers’ comp judge was ordered to calculate benefits for the chef.

Workers should not be denied benefits just because their job duties worsened a pre-existing health condition. If that were the case, much fewer people injured at work would be awarded the compensation they deserve.

Source: Business Insurance, “Comp benefits due to restaurant manager despite being smoker: Pa. court,” Roberto Ceniceros, Dec. 29, 2011