SUPREME COURT PROVIDES BRIGHT LINE TEST IN HEART AND HYPERTENSION LAW

Under Connecticut Law, CGS §7-433c a uniformed member of a paid fire department or regular member of the paid police department who passed a pre-employment physical which demonstrated no evidence of pre-existing heart disease enjoys a presumption under the law that his heart disease is work-related. It should be noted that this statute does not apply to any injured workers who began employment on or after July 1, 1996.

The question that has always been mired in controversy is: when does the injured worker have to file a claim for his heart and hypertension benefits. Until quite recently, the compensation review board had interpreted the relevant statutes to require a claimant to file a notice of injury within one year of the date the claimant had notice of prior high blood pressure readings. In Ciarlelli v. Town of Hamden, the Supreme Court in Connecticut set aside the existing law and stated that the one year clock only begins to start ticking once the injured employee has a formal diagnosis of hypertension or heart disease communicated to him. The Supreme Court further stated it was “particularly inappropriate to expect a patient to discern that he or she suffers from that condition (heart disease) in the absence of a diagnosis by a professional with medical training and expertise.” In effect the Supreme Court stated that it would not be up to the subjective determination of the claimant as to whether or not a history of periodic high blood pressure readings which might have been the result of a “white coat effect,” constituted heart disease. Instead, this determination has be to be made by the doctor. Once the worker has been told by the healthcare provider that he has heart disease, the one year statute begins to run.

The Supreme Court in Ciarlelli went on to clarify that while a claim could be made for heart disease on a repetitive trauma basis, i.e. the claimant had been subject to series of events over the course of his employment that caused his heart disease, such employee could not assert a claim under §7-433c because he would unfairly be getting the benefit of the presumption of that statute which does not require the claimant to prove causation. In other words, if the claimant wants to get the benefit of the presumption in §7-433c, he cannot also extend the statute of limitations through the use of the repetitive trauma claim, which extends the statute until the last day that the claimant worked on that particular job, otherwise known as the last date of injurious exposure injurious exposure.

Leave a Reply