Court overturns denial of survivor benefits over fatal heart attack

The Illinois Appellate Court on Friday overturned a denial of benefits for the son of a construction manager who died of a heart attack while shoveling snow in 2006.

The coroner concluded that Richard Cronk, who worked for Kimball Hill Homes, died of hypertensive cardiovascular disease with coronary atherosclerosis as a significant contributing factor, according to Cronk v. IWCC (Kimball Hill Homes).

Kimball Hill settled a death benefits claim with Mr. Cronk’s wife in 2009, but maintained that the death was unrelated to employment.

Mr. Cronk’s son later filed a claim for benefits. An arbitrator found that Mr. Cronk’s death was not related to his employment and ruled the son was not entitled to survivor benefits, even if Mr. Cronk’s death was work-related, since the son was not enrolled full time in school and over the age of 18 when his father died. The Workers’ Compensation Commission affirmed.

The Illinois Appellate Court said an injury occurs “in the course” of employment when it happens during employment, while a worker fulfills those duties or engages in some incidental employment duties. The court wrote that “the manifest weight of the evidence demonstrates that decedent’s cardiac arrest while shoveling snow at one of employer’s newly built homes occurred in the course of his employment.”

The court also said the commission further erred in finding that the son was not eligible for benefits, as he had just turned 18 and would enroll in college in a year, in line with state comp law that says a dependent who is under 25 and a student qualifies for death benefits. In justifying the reversal, the court said such a brief interruption in the son’s education did not preclude him from benefits.

This article was first published in Business Insurance.

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