Retail Worker Who Suffered Heart Attack After Attempting To Break Up Fight Between Two Customers Was Entitled To Benefits For Subsequent Bypass Surgery, Despite Her Preexisting Coronary Artery Disease

The Illinois Industrial Commission held a claimant’s heart attack arose out of her employment when it occurred after she attempted to break up a fight between two customers. Although the claimant suffered from coronary artery disease, the Commission held the claimant’s work activities aggravated her pre-existing condition. (Anna Hapke v. Wal-Mart, [Ill. Ind. Com.], Nos. 95 WC 7675, 02 IIC 0419, 05/31/02.)

The claimant, a 64 year old retail store manager, encountered a larger man beating a smaller man in the defendant’s shoe department. She yelled at the larger man to stop. The larger man allegedly looked up at the claimant but kept beating the smaller man. Believing the attacker would turn on her next, the claimant ran the length of the store to get help. The defendant called the police to the scene, and the combatants fled the store.

The claimant testified she felt chest pressure and had difficulty breathing after the incident. Her husband brought her to a hospital later that night, where physicians concluded she had a heart attack. After tests revealed the claimant suffered from coronary artery disease, the claimant underwent quadruple bypass surgery. She suffered severe post- operative complications, which required her to undergo subsequent gastrointestinal surgeries. The claimant was unable to return to work, and the defendant terminated her employment. The defendant did not pay any disability benefits.

The arbitrator awarded benefits, finding the claimant suffered a heart attack as a result of the unusual workplace stress of the confrontation. The arbitrator noted both the claimant’s and the defendant’s physicians agreed the work stress could have caused the claimant’s heart attack. Although the defendant’s physician contended the claimant’s non-compensable coronary artery disease necessitated the bypass surgery, the arbitrator agreed with the claimant’s physicians and found the emotional event triggered the need for surgery.

Furthermore, the arbitrator rejected the defendant’s claim that it was entitled to credit for funds in contributed to the claimant’s health insurance. Because the claimant alleged she paid her own insurance premiums and the defendant failed to provide evidence of contribution, the arbitrator refused to grant the defendant credit.

On appeal, the Commission affirmed and adopted the arbitrator’s findings with respect to compensability and the claimant’s entitlement to permanent total disability benefits. However, noting the parties stipulated to review that the defendant contributed $204,971 to the claimant’s health insurance, the Commission concluded the defendant was entitled to credit in that amount pursuant to Section 8(j) of the WCA.