The Increased Risk of Heart Conditions in Law Enforcement Officers

An NYPD police officer appears concerned while standing on the city streets.

It is well documented that law enforcement officers have a higher risk than the general public of developing certain occupational diseases such as Covid-19, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and certain heart conditions. The Minnesota legislature recognized this increased risk and enacted laws that presume that these conditions are work-related and presume that the officer (or their family) is entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. While the presumptions concerning PTSD and Covid-19 may be more well-known, the presumption concerning certain heart conditions is just as important, but often overlooked.

Under Minnesota Statutes §176.011, subdivision 15(b), if a qualified employee has coronary sclerosis, then the disease is presumptively an occupational disease and shall be presumed to have been due to the nature of the employment.

Coronary sclerosis is a slow process that affects the heart over time. The process by which heart arteries become calcified and diseased is called coronary sclerosis or atherosclerosis. Plaque forms in the walls of the arteries that feed the heart. Cholesterol deposits along the walls of arteries slowly hardens to become calcified plaque. Wall stress from hypertension and inflammatory changes cause a hardening of the artery’s walls. Once someone has formed this calcified plaque, they are said to have coronary sclerosis or atherosclerosis or coronary artery disease. These terms all describe a similar process.

Minnesota statute specifically references coronary sclerosis. This creates issues for employees seeking to qualify for the presumption if they have multiple or overlapping diagnoses. These conditions often develop or worsen over time leading to additional diagnoses or even a heart attack.

What should I do if I have had a heart attack or been diagnosed with heart disease, coronary artery disease, coronary sclerosis, atherosclerosis, or plaque buildup?

If a law enforcement officer has had a heart attack or been diagnosed with a heart related condition it is important to speak with a doctor right away about your job and its requirements. While a quick or full return to work may be common for the general population, it presents challenges for law enforcement.  Both acute and chronic stress are associated with increases in cardiovascular mortality in at-risk individuals. It is necessary to understand and possibly change the risk factors that lead to the plaque or condition forming in the first place. Education on risk factors and changes made to reduce or mitigate those risk factors is essential to improving symptoms, quality of life, and survival.

If a law enforcement officer has had a heart attack, has been diagnosed with a heart-related condition, or passes away from a heart condition, it is also important that the officer or their family speak to an attorney about their rights. It is important to know if an officer qualifies for the presumption. Even if the presumption does not apply, the condition may still be work-related and compensable. While an officer will have a number of work-related risk factors for developing a heart condition, they may have some that are not, such as genetics or family history. Work comp recognizes this and does not require a person’s occupation be the sole cause or factor. However, this can often the basis for a denial.

The treatment and work restrictions recommended by a doctor can have an impact on an officer’s ability to maintain their license and continue to work in law enforcement. An officer can also be barred or give up their right to bring a claim if they wait too long. Understanding the impact on an officer’s PERA, MSRS, health insurance, and work comp benefits is critical.

At Meuser, Yackley & Rowland, P.A., we understand the impact of the legal presumptions on your claims. We also understand how to coordinate all your potential claims, including workers’ compensation, PERA/MSRS, and Healthcare Continuation (Minn. Stat. §299A). If you think you may have a work-related heart condition, or your employer or insurer has already denied your claim, then please call us at 1-877-746-5680 for a FREE confidential consultation.