Chest Pain Doesn’t Always Mean Heart Problems- But You Still get WC

chest diagramFunny that this case is making headlines, as I recently had to soothe a friend, who was convinced he was about to have a heart attack, that it might just be a muscle strain. After a few worried days and an ultimate trip to the ER we determined that his heart was just fine and thought maybe the fact that he had moved into a new house the day before the pain started could have been the cause. All that heavy lifting did not agree with him the next day. A similar thing happened to a worker, but it turns out his employer still had to pay for all of the heart attack related tests even after it turned out he had a muscle injury. While unexpected and sudden chest pains can certainly be scary, sometimes the underlying cause is not as bad as originally thought.

Eleazar Gonzales worked for the Butterball Company, who is insured by Ace American Insurance. Sorry in advance to the vegetarians or turkey lovers, but part of his duties included lifting dead and live turkeys to weigh them, putting them in canisters, taking them to be ground and cleaning the lines. Mr. Gonzales has been a U.S resident for twenty years and is a citizen but does not speak English. On June 26th 2009, Mr. Gonzales injured his chest while weighing a turkey that was about 80 pounds. He felt a pull in his chest and told his co-worker about it, so they went to the site’s infirmary where he was evaluated by the company’s nurse and his supervisor was present.

He ended up being sent to the hospital where there was not an interpreter and he got EKG and CPK tests, and then was sent to another hospital, the Freeman Hospital, where he received a cardiac catheterization. Seemingly all the tests showed his heart was functioning well and he was prescribed a painkiller.

At Freeman the next day he spoke with an interpreter and he told them exactly what happened- how he had been lifting the turkey and felt a sudden pain that got worse with breathing. The physicians gave him chest x-rays which also turned out fine. All they found was a swelling over his rib cage, and diagnosed him with non-cardiac chest pain with rib pain. They told him to take off work for a week and then to take it easy at work for the next few weeks- no lifting over 25 pounds. His injury occurred on a Friday and he still went back to work Monday and did not miss any more days.

He filed for workers’ comp benefits- as his total medical bills for this whole ordeal came to just under $20,000. In testimony, his doctor said that the treatment he had received was reasonable and necessary to treat and diagnose his injury.

The Workers’ Comp Commission awarded him benefits ($19,655.91 in medical expenses) and temporary total disability benefits ($342.03), but his employer and their insurance company appealed this decision. They said that he could not prove the injury happened at work, they weren’t notified of any injury, Gonzales didn’t miss work so he should not be awarded temporary disability and he could not connect his treatment to his work injury (which they still argued wasn’t really a work related injury anyway).

The appellate panel agreed that since he didn’t really miss work beyond the little time he took the day of his injury, he should not be awarded temporary disability benefits. But they disagreed with the rest of the arguments- he had his supervisor with him and he told co-workers right after the injury happened at work, so they upheld his workers’ comp benefits.

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