The Heart Law presumption, commonly called the “Heart Bill” presumes that a police officer’s heart ailment is work-related for purposes of accidental disability retirement, unless there is sufficient evidence to rebut it. In other words, if you have a heart ailment (e.g., you have a heart attack), you are entitled to accidental disability retirement benefits unless the entity opposing the presumption can provide “competent evidence” proving that it was not work related. Even if there is absolutely no evidence that the impairment is work-related, the presumption stands. Attempts to overcome the presumption by pointing out numerous risk factors such as high cholesterol, obesity, or smoking arte typically unsuccessful because the mere existence of risk factors does not in and of itself rebut the presumption. The impact of the risk factors must include substantial evidence of how the risk factors affected the individual.
Even in the event that a heart ailment could not be said to have arisen in the line of duty, Massachusetts law provides that if a pre-existing condition is accelerated as a result of a hazard on the job, causation for the injury is established, even if the pre-existing condition is not work-related. For example, court cases have ruled that a police officer’s hypertension was exacerbated by normal police duties and thus work-related and that a fire fighter’s degenerative disc disease was exacerbated by working on a fire truck and thus work-related.
Furthermore, if you have a collective bargaining agreement that applies the Heart Law presumption to “injured-on-duty” leave, you may be entitled to 111F leave if you have a heart ailment and decide to go back to work. For example, if you have a heart attack and take 4 weeks to recover, you may be entitled to receive 111F pay for that time period instead of being forced to use your sick days. You should contact your union representative if you believe this may affect you.