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Trucker's heart attack is compensable

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A long-haul truck driver’s heart attack arose out of and in the scope of his employment, the Tennessee Supreme Court has ruled.

On Oct. 21, 2011, Curtis Marvel started having chest pains while securing steel coils to the back of his flatbed truck in Rose Bud, Illinois, for Roane Transportation Services L.L.C., court records show. Though Mr. Marvel planned to carry out his scheduled delivery, he had to pull over at a truck stop for help when his chest pains worsened.

Paramedics ended up taking him to Gateway Medical Center in Clarksville, Tennessee, where he was diagnosed with a heart attack, records show. He had a stent placed in one of his coronary arteries and spent five days in the hospital.

Mr. Marvel learned he lost his job after being discharged, as Rockwood, Tennessee-based Roane Transportation decided he was “medically unable” to drive a truck, according to records. And, determining his injury wasn’t work related, Roane Transportation denied his claim for workers comp benefits.

In February 2012, Mr. Marvel filed a complaint for workers comp benefits against Roane Transportation in the Circuit Court of Sevier County in Sevierville, Tennessee, records show. The case was heard in April 2014.

Mr. Marvel testified that he had not worked since the heart attack, and that he was still experiencing chest, arm and leg pain, according to records. He also said he’s no longer able to drive, and that he had to sell his vehicle to support his family.

In addition, he said his inactivity since the heart attack caused him to gain weight and develop diabetes, records show.

Despite his medical records, Mr. Marvel testified that he didn’t report experiencing “waxing and waning symptoms” in the days leading up to his heart attack, according to records. However, he did say he had been prescribed medication for high blood pressure beginning in August 2008.

While Mr. Marvel’s treating physician said physical stress can make heart attacks more common, he noted that plaque rupture can occur during physical activity or while at rest, records show.

A cardiologist who examined Mr. Marvel in January 2013 at the request of the claimant’s attorney said there was no way to determine, “within a reasonable degree of medical certainty,” whether Mr. Marvel’s physical exertion on Oct. 21, 2011 precipitated the heart attack, records show. He noted that the “emotional stress of driving a large truck while experiencing chest pains could have accelerated the onset of (his) heart attack.”

The Circuit Court of Sevier County found that Mr. Marvel’s heart attack arose out of and in the scope of his employment and that, as a result, he was permanently and totally disabled, according to records.

On appeal, the Tennessee Supreme Court Special Workers’ Compensation Appeals Panel on Thursday affirmed the circuit court’s decision, ruling in favor or Mr. Marvel.