Magistrate finds Heart Attack while skiing linked to Work Stress - Compensation payable


A heart attack doesn't have to occur at work to be covered under Victorian Compensation law. In a recent case in the Magistrates Court, it was found that a man was entitled to compensation for a heart attack injury, that occurred while skiing, because it was caused by a work related psychological injury that had been ongoing for 4 years prior.

The case concerned a 42 year old man (37 at the time of the heart attack), Mr Bishop, who had suffered a severe psychiatric injury, after being accused of raping a young woman with cerebral palsy, whilst he was working as a disability support worker. The allegations were made in August 2007 and charges were laid and then dismissed at a contested committal hearing sometime after. He was diagnosed with major depression, generalised anxiety and chronic post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the allegations made and the subsequent treatment he received.

He ceased taking medication for his injury in August 2010 and received treatment up to February 2011. In February 2011, he went back to work performing substantial employment as a fine arts lecturer for 4 days a week. He played vigorous tennis twice a month. Although he had ceased treatment and returned to employment, the evidence was that he had continued to suffer from the psychological injury and had not recovered.

His heart attack occurred at Falls Creek on 2 July 2011 whilst skiing. On the day that the heart attack occurred he had skied both blue and black runs, engaging in significant physical exertion. It was accepted that the physical exertion probably precipitated the heart attack.

Besides stress, depression and anxiety, the only other risk factors he had for heart disease included some family history, which was regarded as insignificant and smoking, which was regarded as a low risk factor, because of the amount smoked over a relatively short time period.

Under Victorian compensation law, it is only possible to receive compensation for heart attack injuries if work is a significant contributing factor.

Evidence was given in this case by four cardiologists. All four doctors referred to recent studies of the link between psychological injury and heart disease and all referred to there being a change in the thinking in this area. The Magistrate noted that “in relation to the key issue in this case a common thread runs through their evidence and that is that a depressive illness is a significant risk factor for the occurrence of a myocardial infarction.”

One of the cardiologists who gave evidence in the case, Dr Hamer, expressed the opinion that "There is a connection between the worker's injury on 13 August 2007 resulting in a major depressive disorder and the occurrence of the myocardial infarction in 2011 in that there is widespread literature now available to indicate that a severe depressive illness requiring psychiatric treatment and or anti-depressive medication is a significant risk factor for the occurrence of myocardial infarction over and above the presence or absence of other conventional risk factors."

The Magistrate also noted that it was Dr Hamer’s opinion that “where people are clinically depressed this may lead - and I emphasise this, "some years later" to the risk of a cardiac event even if the person had substantially recovered from the depression by the time of the cardiac event. He said that the problem was the effect on the cardiovascular system at the time of the insult, being the depressive illness and I quote again, "You cannot eliminate the legacy of the depression.""

The Magistrate Continued, “He said, as did the other doctors, that the skiing would be the immediate, and I emphasise the word immediate, cause of the heart attack being plaque rupture but you had to look for a cause of the plaque forming in the first place. Depression has an effect on the formation of atheroma, or accelerates its increase. Regardless of what happens in the intervening time between the depression and the myocardial infarction there is a 1.5 to 2 times chance of the original depression causing it.”

The Magistrate found that in this case the psychological injury, which was an accepted work related injury, was a significant contributing factor to the heart attack injury. The effect of the decision was that Mr Bishop was able to make a claim for an Impairment Benefit for both his heart attack injury and his psychological injury.

 Cameron Bishop V VWA [2015] VMC 034

Penny Flint has acted for many people who have suffered psychological injuries and cardiac injuries. If you need legal advice about a cardiac or psychological work injury send Penny an email or give her a call on 9775 1371.