Heart Disability Presumed To Be Job-Related

For most of his 17-year career as a Westchester County, New York Department of Corrections officer, Kenneth Park worked in what a court described as “an old jail building that was poorly ventilated and contained an abundance of mold, mildew and other contaminants.” When Park was diagnosed with serious respiratory and heart conditions, he filed for disability benefits under New York’s Retirement and Social Security Law. When the New York State and Local Employees’ Retirement System rejected Park’s disability claim, Park challenged the denial in court.

An appeals court found that the State should have granted Park’s disability application. The Court based its decision on New York’s “presumptive causation law,” which creates a presumption that any “disease of the heart” suffered by a corrections officer is caused by the job and qualifies for duty-related disability benefits.

The Court held that “notably, the statute contains a presumption that the impairment ‘was incurred in the performance and discharge of duty, unless the contrary can be proven by competent evidence.’ To successfully rebut this statutory presumption, it must be demonstrated through expert proof that the applicant’s cardiac condition was caused by cardiac risk factors other than the applicant’s employment.”

In an attempt to rebut the presumption that Park’s employment caused his condition, the State called a medical expert who testified that Park’s symptoms could be attributed to some type of a disabling heart disease, but that more testing was required to determine the actual cause of the symptoms. Since the expert did not testify that Park’s condition “was caused” by other than his employment, the Court found that the expert’s testimony “was insufficient to rebut the statutory presumption, and that part of the determination denying Park performance of duty disability retirement benefits under Retirement and Social Security Law must be annulled.”

Park v. DiNapoli, 2014 WL 7391547 (N.Y. App. Div. 2014).