Suffolk County PD – Heart Attack in the Line of Duty

It is now widely recognized that cardiovascular issues are nearly 1.7 times higher amongst police officers when compared to the general population [1]. These “heart” issues may vary in severity from mild hypertension to a fatal stroke and can be found in officers of all ages. [2]

Therefore, it becomes vitally important for all Suffolk County police officers to be aware of what may be available to them by way of Worker’s Compensation benefits, and NY General Municipal Law (GML) 207-c benefits, should they sustain a cardiac injury while in the line of duty. These are two distinct legal remedies that may be available to an officer under particular circumstances. They are not the same, and should not be treated as such:

Workers Compensation:

Worker’s Compensation is essentially an insurance required for nearly all employees in New York State including Suffolk County police officers. This insurance provides medical coverage and partial monetary compensation for injuries sustained as a result of their employment. The medical coverage extends only to the job-related injury, and the monetary amount for each officer is determined by the date of the injury in question, and the injured officer’s average weekly wage at that time. Essentially in order for a police officer to successfully obtain Worker’s Compensation benefits for a cardiovascular condition, he must provide medical evidence from his treating physician which shows how it relates to his/her employment.

In Employer: City of Schenectady, a police officer suffered a heart attack while at home after coming back from a strenuous training program required by his department. This officer was able to get Worker’s Compensation benefits because the medical experts agreed that the stress of his job duties as a police officer played a role in causing the heart attack, “It would be certainly appropriate to conclude that his severe job stresses that were present immediately prior to his myocardial infarction would have been a significant contributing factor to this event.” The officer had shown how his heart attack was due, at least in part, to his employment as an officer. Thus, he was able to obtain Workers’ compensation benefits.

GML § 207-c

GML § 207-c provides for the payment of an officer’s full salary and the cost of all medical treatment and hospital care for an individual injured or taken ill as the result of the performance of his/her job duties. This extends to medical bills that are not even part of the injury which the officer sustains in the line of duty.  Under the current standard, an employee is eligible for the benefit as long as they have an injury while in the performance of or takes ill as a result of, any duty within the range of their duties. The focus here is what duty a police officer is engaged in when the cardiac injury occurs. The injury must emanate from the officer’s performance while in the line of duty for GML 207-c to qualify. Therefore, an officer may sometimes be entitled to both GML 207-c and Worker’s Compensation benefits, but not always.

The application of these benefits can best be understood using the following example:

A police officer has a stroke while subduing a criminal who attempted to assault that officer. The officer’s treating physician cites the strenuous activity of restraining the criminal as the contributing factor which caused the heart attack. This stroke was caused by the officer’s employment with the police department, and it emanated from the performance of his duties. Therefore, he would also be entitled to benefits under GML 207-c.

However, if the heart attack occurred once the officer was off duty then that officer may only be entitled to Worker’s Compensation benefits because it did not occur during the performance of his duties.

In the event that an officer receives both Worker’s Compensation and GML  207-c benefits there are some nuances to keep in mind:

  • The Department may be entitled to reimbursement of the salary paid under GML 207-c from the Worker’s Compensation claim associated with the cardiovascular injury.
  • If an officer is receiving Worker’s Compensation benefits associated with the cardiovascular injury the Department is only obligated to pay the difference in salary if GML 207-c applies.
  • GML 207-c would cover all medical expenses not associated with the Worker’s Compensation claim.

Please follow up with your treating physician if you feel that your work as a police officer is contributing to a cardiovascular problem. Given the increased risks of cardiovascular issues posed to all officers, we would encourage you to make sure that you are well versed in these benefits should the worst occur. Feel free to contact our office at 631-665-0609 if you would like to learn more.

[1] Zimmerman FH Cardiol Rev. 2012 Jul-Aug; 20(4):159-66.

[2] Id.

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