Firefighter Loses Claim For Heart-Lung Presumption But Wins Workers’ Compensation Case

Arthur Amos was a firefighter with the Ouachita Parish Fire Department in Louisiana. On November 26, 2002, Amos suffered a disabling stroke. When the Parish decided that Amos’ stroke was not job-related, he challenged the denial of his workers’ compensation benefits in the Louisiana Court of Appeals.

Amos first argued that he was entitled to a presumption that his stroke was caused in the line of duty under Louisiana’s Heart and Lung Act. The Court disagreed, finding that the Act only created a presumption that a heart or lung condition was caused by the job if the condition arose after the first five years of employment. In Amos’ case, his employment began in 1988, and his symptoms first manifested themselves in 1991. The Court thus concluded that Amos was not entitled to the presumption that the job caused his stroke.

However, as the Court noted, the conclusion that the heart-lung presumption did not apply “does not end the inquiry.” The Court found that without regard to the presumption, Amos proved that his lung condition – which although unrelated to the stroke, was disabling – was caused by the job. The Court cited Amos’ testimony that his work “included responding to calls, putting out fires, and working chemical spills. As a firefighter, he was exposed to smoke and chemicals. In fact, he was on the crew that responded to several chemical fires, including a catastrophic fire and explosion in 1991. Amos testified that his breathing problems and a cough started immediately after the fire and explosion, and that his condition worsened over time.

“Amos was not required to establish that his employment with the Fire Department was the sole cause of his lung disease; he met his burden of proof by showing that his employment contributed to, accelerated, or aggravated his condition. Amos’ medical records, which reflect consistent complaints of wheezing, shortness of breath, and coughing dated back to the early ‘90s, clearly establish a causal relationship between his lung disease and his employment.”

Amos v. Ouachita Parish Police Jury, 2008 WL 2439896 (La.App. 2008).

This article appears in the October 2008 issue