If you work in Virginia as a police officer or firefighter and get diagnosed with heart disease or hypertension, your condition may be covered under the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Act. Code of Virginia § 65.2-402, “presumption as to death or disability from respiratory disease, hypertension or heart disease, cancer,” provides a rebuttable presumption that your heart disease or hypertension is related to your employment. More specifically, the law presumes that your disease is work-related unless the employer is able to rebut the presumption.
In most Virginia occupational disease cases, you are required to prove your condition is work-related to recover workers’ compensation benefits. However, if you become disabled due to heart disease or hypertension after working for five-years as a police officer or firefighter, you do not have to provide evidence that your disease is work-related in order to get the benefit of the presumption. Although you do not need to prove that your heart disease or hypertension is work-related, your claim will be much stronger if your treating physician states that the cause of your disease is either related to your work or unknown, and that your employment cannot be excluded as a risk factor in the development of your disease.
Requirements to be Eligible for the Presumption.
You must receive an actual diagnosis of heart disease or hypertension. Suffering from high blood pressure or heart-related symptoms alone is not enough to obtain the benefit of the presumption. You also need disability from work, either partial or total, as a direct result of the disease. Disability can be as little as a portion of a day. Although an employer may voluntarily accept attending a doctor’s appointment as disability from work for wage loss purposes, a doctor’s appointment alone will not meet the legal requirements to obtain the benefit of the presumption under the law. You should obtain a disability certificate, signed by the treating physician, stating the period of total or partial disability and that the disability from work is as a direct result of your heart disease or hypertension.
Additionally, you must have completed five (5) years or service in your covered position prior to your diagnosis and have been free of the type of disease that you are filing a claim for at the time you were hired by the employer.
What to Do If You Are Diagnosed with Heart Disease or Hypertension.
If you are diagnosed with heart disease or hypertension, you must immediately provide notice of your diagnosis to your employer. You must also file a claim for benefits with the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission within two years from the date of your diagnosis or within five years from the date of your last injurious exposure, whichever occurs first. Failure to timely file your claim with the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission within the appropriate time period will cause your claim to be barred by law. Filing a claim with your employer or their third-party administrator/carrier does not satisfy this requirement. The claim must be timely filed with the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission.
What If My Employer Disagrees?
The presumption contained in the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Act is a rebuttable presumption, meaning that your employer can deny your claim and attempt to rebut the presumption at a hearing. In order to rebut the presumption, your employer must prove that your disease was not caused by your employment and that there is a non-work related cause for your disease.
If you have been diagnosed with heart disease or hypertension, you should speak to an attorney right away. Greg Perigard at Carroll & Nuttall is ready and available to answer any questions you have and discuss your claim.
All you need to do is call our firm at (703) 952-5801 or contact us online to put more than 90 years of combined legal experience on your side.