Security Guard's Heart Attack after Confrontation with Hooligans Is Covered "Accident" under State Workers' Compensation Scheme. (Recent Court Decisions)

Article excerpt

Cunningham v. Shelton Security Service, Inc., 46 S.W.3d 131 (Tennessee Supreme Court-- March 1, 2001) (rehearing denied, May 2, 2001)

Robert Cunningham worked as a security guard at the Little Barn Deli and Market in Nashville. During the early morning hours of March 5,1992, three young men entered the store and apparently attempted to shoplift. Cunningham confronted the men and asked them to leave. A verbal confrontation ensued and things became heated, but violence did not erupt as Cunningham escorted the three men out of the store, although they threatened to return and kill Cunningham.

When Cunningham returned to the store, he soon began complaining about feeling bad. He rubbed his arm and stated that he had a funny sensation. He went outside for a moment and fell unconscious, the victim of a heart attack. Cunningham died before his ambulance reached the hospital. An emergency room physician attributed the tragedy to "sudden cardiac death," which he attributed to the distressing nature of the confrontation. However, Cunningham's death certificate classified the death as one from "arteriosclerotic cardiovascular disease," and no autopsy was performed.

The legal issue before the court was whether Cunningham's death was the result of an "injury by accident arising out of and in the course of employment" as required by the state workers' compensation statute. …