A friend recently asked me if an employee who suffers a stroke could receive workers’ compensation benefits if the stroke happened outside of work. My first instinct was to answer the question with a resounding no. After all, how could any one prove that an off-duty stroke was a result of employment? However, as I began to think more about the question, I remembered that under certain circumstances Georgia workers’ compensation law does consider an off-duty stroke to be a compensable injury.
Just like any other workers’ compensation claim, an employee who wants compensation for a off-duty stroke must prove that, (1) she suffered an actual injury, (2) the injury occurred “in the course of” employment, and (3) her employment proximately caused the injury. The most complicated aspect of this three-part equation is proving that the job proximately caused the off-duty stroke. The words proximately caused mean that there must be some causal connection between the conditions under which the employee worked and the injury which she received. In Georgia, courts have found causal relationships between employment and off-duty strokes or heart attacks when employees have proved their jobs involved physical exertion, mental-emotional stress, or exposure to extreme temperatures. Georgia, historically, has not required employee to show that the physical or emotional stress they experienced during work was severe. All an employee has to shows is that her work was a contributing proximate cause of the stroke.
Time plays a central part in the fight to prove proximate cause. An employee considering seeking benefits for an off-duty stroke should know that the longer the time interval between the work stressor and the stroke, the less likely it is that there is a true causal relationship between the job and the injury.