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.

Dear valued clients:

Our office is aware of the Covid 19 situation and is taking measures to keep our staff safe during these difficult times. For the immediate future, we will not be meeting in person with any of our clients. However, all of our clients can reach us by telephone, email at or by facsimile at 630-451-9477. Our office remains open and we will continue our work as usual. We feel this is best for everyone concerned.

If you have recently suffered an injury from a work related accident and would like to retain our services, the entire process can be done by telephone, electronic and/or regular mail. We have operators available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Please feel free to contact us anytime at 312-661-0450 and speak with one of our experienced and knowledgeable attorneys. Once this is has passed, we will gladly meet with you in person to answer any questions or address any concerns you may have.

Thank you for your patience and consideration. Be safe and stay healthy!


Donald Fohrman
Donald W. Fohrman & Associates, Ltd.