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Disability-related injury: Covered by workers’ comp?

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Q. Are employers liable if an employee is hurt on the job as a result of his or her own disability? For example, what happens if an employee with a heart condition has a heart attack? Is the employee entitled to workers’ comp because it happened at work? Or could we be liable because we allowed the employee to work? — L.L., Texas

A. Generally, injuries at work are covered by workers’ compensation no matter the cause. Workers’ compensation laws prohibit employees from instituting lawsuits against employers for covered personal injuries. Most states have exceptions, however, for intentional acts by the employer. Under these laws, an employer that deliberately exposes an employee to a working condition that the employer knows is dangerous can be sued outside of the workers’ compensation system for the injuries. Usually, these claims carry a high burden and are difficult to prove.

In your case, the employee would have to show that you knew of the medical condition, knew that the employee’s work posed a specific risk to the employee because of that medical condition, and you nevertheless exposed the employee to that risk. I cannot say that you would be completely off the hook for the injuries, but the employee would be facing an uphill battle if she pursues such a claim.

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