The Court of Appeal affirmed the denial of a peace officers presumed industrial disability retirement claim notwithstanding the accepted workers’ compensation claim. Here is what happened in the unpublished opinion of Henry Kirk v Retirement Board of of the City and County of San Francisco
Henry Kirk was a police officer for the San Francisco Police Department from 1975 until his retirement in June 2008 due to his heart-related physical impairment. His heart trouble appears to have surfaced in the 1980s, when he began to notice rapid heart beating and other symptoms, first, when exercising in 1983, and, next, when he passed out while driving a police vehicle in pursuit of a suspect in 1983 or 1984.
He was diagnosed with paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia (PSVT) in 1990, high blood pressure in 1994, hypertensive cardiovascular disease and possible cardiomyopathy in 1997. In 1998 he was evaluated for his worker’s compensation claim. The evaluator determined that since the cardiomyopathy developed during the years he was a police officer, he qualified for workers’ compensation benefits under the “California Presumption Statute.” His treating physician however continued to express doubts about the diagnosis of cardiomyopathy.
On July 28, 2007, Kirk collapsed and lost consciousness while dancing at a private event, suffering a cardiac arrest. After initially receiving emergency medical care that included emergency catheterization, hypothermia treatment and life support, kirk received an implantable cardiac defibrillator. Then, following nearly six months of recuperation, appellant returned to police duty on January 19, 2008.
On January 17, 2008, Kirk was examined by Dr. Robert Blau in connection with his July 2007 workers’ compensation claim. Dr. Blau did not address the link (if any) between Kirk’s heart condition and his police service except to state “[he] has already received acknowledgement of his hypertension and cardiovascular disease being industrial.”
On March 18, 2008, Kirk suffered another cardiac arrest while driving home from work and effectively retired on June 28, 2008. Just before his retirement, on June 10, 2008, Kirk applied for an industrial disability retirement, identifying a “cardiac arrest” in July 2007 as his disabling condition. Dr. Thomas Allems found Kirk unfit to serve as a law enforcement officer in any capacity and thus “appropriately medically retired on a non-service connected basis.” With respect to the underlying cause of his heart trouble, Dr. Allems found it unrelated to his service as a police officer: He said that “[Kirks’s] dilated cardiomyopathy is likely idiopathic in nature; he may have a genetic predisposition. As a result of his cardiomyopathy he has had symptomatic supraventricular and ventricular arrhythmias, dating back to the 1980s, with eventual ventricular arrhythmic arrests on two occasions in July 2007 and March 2008. This sequence of events reflects the natural history of his underlying cardiomyopathy.” After acknowledging that his heart disease had been accepted for workers’ compensation as industrial, Dr. Allems nontheless concluded that “With reasonable medical probability, his cardiomyopathy . . . was unrelated to any factors of his employment as a San Francisco police officer. His heart pathology would have occurred at the same time (becoming symptomatic shortly after his employment began) and progressed at the same rate and requested the same degree of medical treatment absent his being employed as a peace officer.”
His industrial disability retirement was denied after an arbitrator adopted the conclusion of Dr. Allems. The City of San Franciso adopted the arbitrators award and Kirk appealed.
The Court of Appeal in the unpublished opinion of Henry Kirk v Retirement Board of of the City and County of San Francisco affirmed the denial of his disability retirement claim. The task on appeal was to determine whether the trial court’s judgment is supported by substantial evidence. Contrary evidence developed in his workers’ compensation claim does not require reversal, particularly in light of the great deference accorded lower court findings in writ. proceedings. The Court of Appeal concluded that Dr. Allems did more than simply point out the lack of evidence that the applicant’s condition was industrial. Dr. Allems provided factually-supported medical opinions demonstrating the non-industrial nature and non-industrial progression of appellant’s condition, thereby successfully rebutting the applicable presumption