The Heart and Lung Bill for Police and Firefighters Offers Added Legal Protection Through Virginia Workers’ Compensation


Workers compensation lawyer Corey Pollard represents police, firefighters, 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, paramedics, and other emergency first responders overcome the trouble they may have proving that their diagnosed heart disease, hypertension, lung disease, or pulmonary 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 Police and Firefighters in Virginia?


Workers’ compensation claims brought under the heart and lung presumption, as well as the cancer presumption, differ from other workers’ comp claims based on injuries and 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 because the job itself is so stressful.


How Does the Heart and Lung Presumption Work in Virginia?


Here is how the heart and lung bill works under the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Act.


First, you must be a police officer, firefighter, or emergency first responder in Virginia. You benefit from the Virginia heart/lung presumption if you are included within one of the following categories:


  • 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


Second, a doctor must diagnose you with a heart disease or lung disease. Though this seems straightforward, whether a medical condition is included in the definition of “heart disease” or “lung disease” is often disputed by employers and insurance carriers trying to avoid having to pay workers’ compensation benefits.


An experienced workers comp lawyer can help you prove that your medical condition falls within the Heart/Lung Bill.


Third, you must have lost time from work or been reduced to light duty work because of your heart or lung disease. The heart/lung presumption will not apply until you have established disability due to your condition. And disability is established when you miss time from work because of your heart or lung condition or are restricted to light duty. You do not get the benefit of the heart/lung presumption if you are seeking a medical only award.


If you satisfy these three prongs, then you get the advantage of applying heart and lung presumption when you file a workers’ compensation claim.


How Does the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission Define “Heart Disease?”


As we stated above, your employer and its insurance carrier may argue that your medical condition does not fit within the definition of “heart disease” under the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Act. This is an issue litigated often.


“Heart disease” is limited to diseases of the heart, including heart arrhythmias. Heart attacks are included. Diseases that affect the heart, such as postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome and inappropriate tachycardia, are not covered under the presumption because they are nervous system disorders. In other words, the heart presumption does not apply to medical conditions that affect your heart but originate with another organ or system.


Hypertension is covered under the Heart/Lung Bill. It is defined as persistently high pressure of the blood against the arterial walls. Your hypertension diagnosis must be based on three or more consecutive daily or weekly blood pressure readings.


Other heart diseases covered under the Virginia Heart/Lung Bill for police and firefighters include:


  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Myocardial infarction (Heart Attack)
  • Heart failure
  • Coronary heart disease
  • Hypercholesterolemia
  • Angina
  • Ischemic heart disease
  • Cardiomyopathy
  • Heart conditions requiring stenting
  • Bypass Surgery


The Workers’ Compensation Commission scrutinizes claims based on atrial fibrillation closely.


How Does the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission Define “Lung Disease?”


The Heart/Lung Bill covers respiratory diseases suffered by police, firefighters, and emergency responders. Common respiratory conditions covered by the heart and lung presumption include:


  • Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome
  • Asthma
  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
  • Chronic Bronchitis
  • Emphysema
  • Inflammatory Mass in the Lung
  • Lung Cancer
  • Pneumoconiosis
  • Restrictive Lung Disease


Am I Eligible for Benefits Under the Heart/Lung Bill if I Am a Retired Police Officer or Firefighter?


Yes. Retired police officers, firefighters, and emergency first responders are still entitled to the heart and lung presumption under the Workers’ Compensation Act.


It is important, however, that you file a claim for benefits as soon as you are diagnosed with the condition to improve your chance of satisfying the applicable statute of limitations. You have two years from the date you are diagnosed with heart or lung disease, or five years from the last injurious exposure to your employment, whichever comes first, to file your claim. We think the heart and lung statute of limitations is unfair given how long it takes many of these conditions to become symptomatic, but that is the current state of the law.


Do I Need to Receive Both a Diagnosis and a Communication that My Medical Condition is an Occupational Disease to Make a Claim under the Heart/Lung Presumption?


No. You do not need to president evidence of a communication of a diagnosis that your heart or lung condition is related to your employment to qualify for the presumption.


But you still should obtain supportive evidence to protect your legal rights under the Heart/Lung Bill. In fact, recommend obtaining supportive documentation from your treating physicians that explains why your heart or lung disease is related to your employment before filing a claim. This can help you get the cash payments (including temporary total disability and permanent partial disability), medical care, death benefits, and workers compensation settlement you deserve should your employer and its insurance carrier dispute your entitlement to the presumption or benefits.


Can I Qualify for the Heart/Lung Presumption if I Did Not Undergo a Pre-Employment Physical with the Employer?


Yes. As a police officer or firefighter, you may qualify for the heart/lung presumption if your employer failed to administer a pre-employment physical or if your pre-employment physical did not reveal heart disease, hypertension, or a respiratory condition.


You will not qualify for the heart/lung presumption, however, if you refused to undergo a pre-employment physical examination requested by your employer.


Will the Employer and Its Insurance Carrier Fight My Workers’ Compensation Claim Even Though I Get the Benefit of the Heart and Lung Presumption?


Satisfying the three prongs necessary to qualify for the heart/lung presumption does not mean you will receive benefits automatically. It does, however, give you an advantage if your claim for benefits is disputed and litigation and a workers’ compensation hearing are necessary to prove entitlement to benefits.


Your employer and its insurance carrier will likely deny our dispute your claim for workers’ comp benefits under the Heart/Lung Bill. Indeed, 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. And that number has increased greatly over the past decade.


How Will the Employer and Its Insurance Carrier Defend My Workers’ Compensation Claim Based on the Heart/Lung 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 your heart or lung 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 and lung presumption claims are fought by employers.


First, the employer will try to obtain all of your medical records from at least 10 years prior to your diagnosis of a heart disease, hypertension, or lung condition. 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 or respiratory condition. For example, if you have a nervous system disorder that affects your heart, the employer may argue that your condition is not heart disease.


Virginia Workers Compensation Lawyer Corey Pollard Can Help You Get the Benefits You Deserve under the Heart and Lung Bill if You Are a Police Officer or Firefighter


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 for injured employees. Call or text us at 804-251-1620, or complete the online form for a free strategy session regarding your rights under Virginia workers’ compensation. We are ready to help all police, firefighters, and members of police and firefighter unions and associations.