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Police officer awarded comp for heart disease

police officer

A city must pay benefits for a police officer’s heart disease despite his long history of heart problems.

In City of Newport News v. Kahikina, the Virginia Court of Appeals unanimously affirmed on Tuesday a Virginia Workers Compensation Commission’s decision to award benefits to the officer under the state’s occupational disease presumption.

Joey Kahikina worked as a police officer for the City of Newport News, Virginia, and began having heart problems in 2004. In 2011, a cardiologist diagnosed him with cardiomyopathy and attributed his irregular heartbeats to his consumption of Red Bull. In 2015, Mr. Kahikina was hospitalized for chest pain and diagnosed with “unstable angina” as well as hypertension, diabetes and high cholesterol. In 2017, he was hospitalized again for chest pain and was advised to transition to a less stressful position. In August 2017, he filed a claim for workers compensation benefits, stating that he had acquired the occupational disease of cardiomyopathy due to the stress related with his job.

The commission granted Mr. Kahikina temporary wage benefits and lifetime medical benefits, determining that his 2015 diagnosis was the trigger for the two-year statute of limitations and that his claim was timely filed.

The city appealed the decision, arguing that the statute of limitations should have begun with his first diagnosis of cardiomyopathy and that his claim, therefore, was not timely filed, and that he was not entitled to invoke the occupational disease presumption in Virginia code.

The appellate court affirmed the commission’s decision. Although the city argued that Mr. Kahikina knew of his heart issues prior to his 2015 hospitalization, the court said that the city failed to show that Mr. Kahikina knew that his occupational disease arose out of and in the course of his employment, and that he did not need to file for benefits until he understood that causal connection between the disease and his work. The court found that his medical records did not reflect that his condition was related to his employment until 2017; earlier records attributed his heart disease to his lifestyle choices and other illnesses.

The court also dismissed the city’s argument that Mr. Kahikina was not entitled to invoke the presumption, finding that credible evidence exists that his work-related heart disease caused his disability.





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