Police and Firefighter Heart/Lung Presumption in Virginia Workers’ Compensation Cases
Workers compensation lawyer Corey Pollard represents police, fire fighters, and emergency responders in heart/lung presumption cases across Virginia.
History of the Heart Presumption & Lung Presumption in Virginia
Virginia enacted the heart and lung presumption in 1976. It is designed to help police, firefighters, and paramedics overcome the trouble they may have proving that a diagnosed heart or lung condition is related to their employment. This statute is also known as the police and firefighter heart and lung bill.
How does the heart/lung presumption help injured workers?
Workers’ comp claims brought under the heart, lung, and cancer presumption differ from other claims based on occupational diseases. The heart and lung presumption establishes, as a matter of law, there there is a connection between certain occupations and some specific diseases – even if medical evidence proving the causal connection is absent. In other words, the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission recognizes that the nature of being a police officer, firefighter, or paramedic puts you at an increased risk of certain occupational diseases.
I’m a firefighter who has been diagnosed with cardiovascular disease. How do I benefit from the heart/lung presumption?
First, you must have received a diagnosis of heart or lung disease. Though this seems straightforward,whether a condition is “heart” or “lung” disease is usually disputed by employers and insurance carriers.
Second, you must be a firefighter, police officer, or emergency first responder.
Third, you must have lost time from work because of the disease.
What if I am retired?
That doesn’t matter. You can still claim the heart, lung, or cancer presumption so long as you file a claim for benefits within the applicable statute of limitations. You have two years from the date of diagnosis or five years from the last injurious exposure to file your claim.
Heart Presumption in Virginia Workers’ Comp
Under the Virginia heart presumption, hypertension and heart disease are considered occupational diseases covered by the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Act. Coverage, however, is not automatic. The employer may overcome the presumption by a preponderance of the evidence. Further, the employer can argue that the presumption does not apply if it requested that you undergo a preemployment physical examination but you refused.
What conditions are covered under the heart presumption?
Hypertension is covered. It is defined as persistently high pressure of the blood against the arterial walls. Diagnosis is based on three or more consecutive daily or weekly blood pressure readings.
Atrial fibrillation is not considered a hypertension diagnosis.
“Heart disease” is limited to diseases of the heart, including heart arrhythmias. Heart attacks are included. Diseases that impact the heart, such as postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome and inappropriate tachycardia, are not covered under the presumption because they are nervous system disorders.
Which Virginia police and firefighters are covered by the heart presumption?
The following employees are covered by the presumption:
- Salaried firefighters
- Volunteer firefighters
- Members of city, county, and town police departments
- Sheriffs and deputy sheriffs
- Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority police officers
- Norfolk Airport Authority police officers
- Virginia Port Authority police officers
- Campus police officers employed by public colleges
- Virginia Marine Police officers
- Members of the State Police Officers’ Retirement System
Questions about the Heart Presumption
Will my employer and its insurer fight my workers’ compensation claim even though it falls under the heart presumption?
Unfortunately the answer is probably yes. Most employers and insurers retain defense attorneys to fight workers’ comp claims brought under the heart/lung presumption. This is because heart presumption and lung presumption claims are costly. In fact, the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission estimates that employers paid out close to $5 million in medical expenses related to heart and lung presumption claims in 2008 alone.
How will the employer fight my workers’ comp claim under the heart presumption?
Before I started representing injured workers, I represented some of Virginia’s largest employers and municipalities. We knew that the employer must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that (a) your disease was not caused by your employment; but, rather, was caused by other non-work related causes. We also knew that the employer did not have to exclude your employment as a contributing factor in the disease. Here is how heart presumption claims are fought.
First, the employer will try to obtain all of your medical records from at least 10 years prior to your diagnosis. The employer is looking for a sign that your disease pre-existed your employment. If the employer was smart, it would have determined this by having you undergo a pre-employment physical.
Second, the employer will dissect the length of your employment and what exactly you were exposed to on the job. Its hope is that you did not have a stressful position. This is, however, going to be difficult for the employer to prove under the existing law.
Third, the employer will pressure your treating physicians into stating that your disease is unrelated to your employment.
Fourth, the employer will send you to one of its hand-picked doctors, who will then issue a report that says your disease is unrelated to your employment.
Fifth, the employer may argue that your symptoms are not related to a heart disease. For example, if you have a nervous system disorder that affects your heart, the employer may argue that your condition is not heart disease.
Lung Presumption/Respiratory Disease Presumption Claims in Virginia
Under the lung presumption, respiratory disease is an occupational disease for covered employees. Like the heart presumption, the employer can overcome the presumption by a preponderance of the evidence. Covered respiratory diseases include restrictive lung disease and an inflammatory mass in the lung.
Virginia Workers Compensation Lawyer Corey Pollard Can Help You Get the Benefits You Deserve
Are you a firefighter, law enforcement officer, police officer, or paramedic who has been diagnosed with heart disease, hypertension, or lung disease? If so, contact Virginia workers’ compensation lawyer Corey Pollard today for a free evaluation of your legal rights. He represents firefighters and police officers in presumption cases across the state, and has obtained top dollar workers compensation settlements.
Not sure if you need a lawyer? Then contact us for a free copy of our Virginia Workers’ Compensation Guide.