Lavalle v. Town of Bridgton
Maine Municipal Association
April 10, 2015
Death Presumption Heart Attack §327
Summary from the Troubh Heisler Attorneys
Lavalle died of a heart attack, and the primary issue on appeal was whether the Town of Bridgton had rebutted the §327 presumption of compensability. On his last day of work, Lavalle stopped working sometime after noon. He spoke with his wife at around 3:30, and said he was tired. He had a glass of wine with a friend later that afternoon, and fell asleep. At 5:00 he called 911 complaining of “symptoms.” He died of a heart attack in the hospital at approximately 3:30 the next morning. The parties had agreed that §327 applied, creating a rebuttable presumption that Lavalle received a personal injury arising out of and in the course of employment, and that notice had been given of that injury. Hearing Officer Stovall received two competing medical opinions on causation, and he found both of them to be speculative and unpersuasive. He ruled that the §327 presumption required Bridgton to prove that the heart attack was not work-related, and that Bridgton had failed to carry its burden of proof. The appellate panel majority agreed with him, holding that the presumption shifts the ultimate burden of proof to the employer under Hall. Hearing Officer Greene dissented, stating his view that under Toomey the presumption creates the lesser burden of showing only that it is at least as likely as not that the injury is not work-related. The Lavalle decision is worth reading for the interesting debate among the panel members concerning the extent to which the §327 presumption shifts the burden of proof, and the effect of the Sullwold decisions on that issue. Even more interesting is the absence of any discussion of the “in the course of” issue. Because Lavalle’s fatal heart attack appears to have occurred after working hours, the issue arises whether the injury occurred “in the course of” the employment. Bridgton might have rebutted the presumption on that issue, unless medical evidence showed that the heart attack actually began during the work day. If the parties presented evidence or argument on that issue, Appellate Division decision did not mention it.