G.L. c. 32, § 94, the so-called heart law, establishes a rebuttable presumption that any impairment of health caused by heart disease or hypertension is service connected unless the contrary is shown by competent medical evidence. Due to the nature of their jobs, this presumption applies to certain Massachusetts public safety officials such as police officers, firefighters, and correction officers.
G.L. c. 32, § 94A is the so-called “lung law.” It states that disabling lung and respiratory diseases suffered by firefighters are presumed to be job-related. This presumption is based on the unique health hazards which these employees are exposed to while in the performance of their duties. For example, firefighters are exposed to smoke, gases, vapors, fumes, and chemicals. These exposures may cause disabling respiratory conditions.
The purpose of these laws is to satisfy the causation requirement of hypertension, heart disease, or lung / respiratory disease for certain categories of state and municipal employees who perform specified hazardous public safety functions.
It is important to remember that the Massachusetts heart and lung laws only create a presumption and this presumption that an applicant’s heart condition was suffered in the line of duty can be overcome by competent evidence. In order for these presumptions to apply, there must be evidence that the police officer, firefighter, or corrections officer did not have, at the time he was hired, the condition for which he is later seeking an accidental disability retirement.
Where there is evidence of a uniquely predominant non-service connected influence on the applicant’s mental or physical condition and/or a non-service connected accident or hazard which caused his/her incapacity, the presumptions will not apply. This means that evidence that the disabling condition was not sustained in the line of duty may negate the presumption regarding causation.
Examples of evidence which might negate the presumption include lifestyle, family history, high risk behaviors such as smoking, a congenital problem, a non-work related pathology, and clear exposure to a triggering condition outside of work. These are only a few examples.
To obtain an accidental disability retirement, the applicant still must prove that he or she was unable to perform the essential duties of his job as of his last day of work. The presumptions only apply to causation, the applicant must still provide disability and permanency.