Workers' compensation provides broad protections to Pennsylvania workers. The benefits available through workers' comp should be able to provide medical coverage and disability income to any employee who gets sick or who gets hurt as a direct result of the performance of work-related duties.
Sometimes, it is relatively simple for an injured employee to show that injuries are directly linked to a work accident. With work-related illnesses, it can be harder since an illness may not immediately develop or manifest symptoms. Still, there are times when it is relatively simple to show an illness was work related to, such as when an employee works in a location where there is asbestos and then develops asbestosis or mesothelioma.
There are some especially difficult cases, however, where demonstrating an illness was caused by work can be very hard. Some types of cancer are examples of illnesses where it can be difficult to show work tasks were the cause, since there are countless different reasons people get cancer and no way to make a definitive diagnosis on why the disease developed. Another example of a situation where it can be difficult to prove the damage was work-related is when an employee has a heart attack at work.
Recently, Safety News Alert published an article showing how hard it is to get workers' compensation coverage when a heart attack has occurred. A man who was a process manager at an airport facility which provided glycol was the victim of the heart attack. He had been called into work in December to deal with an emergency situation: a frozen valve was preventing the delivery of glycol.
This was a major problem since glycol is necessary for de-icing airplanes. Without glycol to de-ice plane wings, the planes could not take off. The man and his co-workers were under tremendous pressure to fix the problem as soon as possible.
In an effort to try to repair the valve, the process operator walked outdoors in ice cold temperatures. The cold he was exposed to, combined with the stress he was under, were two contributing factors which led to the man having a heart attack. A cardiologist who was an expert in diagnostics provided testimony indicating these two work-related conditions were major driving forces in causing his heart attack.
The heart attack was a fatal one, and the wife of the man who sustained the heart attack ended up applying for workers' compensation death benefits. Because of the difficulties in proving a heart attack is work-related, she had to go through multiple phases of appeals including an appeal to a workers' compensation administrative judge, as well as to the workers' compensation board, and the state court of appeals.
Ultimately, the workers' compensation administrative judge determined she was entitled to benefits and this decision was upheld by the board and the court. Still, the case shows the difficulty in getting benefits.