Md. cop says being an officer gave him heart problems

By Alan Suderman
Washington Examiner

MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Md. — A former local basketball standout who played professionally before becoming a Montgomery County police officer is suing the county over compensation for his having developed heart problems.

Steven Hood starred at DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville in the mid-'80s and later for James Madison University. He then played almost a decade of professional basketball overseas, court records show.

Hood became a Montgomery County police officer in 2005 and developed heart problems last year, court records show. A doctor said Hood was treated for hypertension and "returned to full duty and has had no subsequent problems," court records show. Records also indicate Hood had no heart problems before joining the force, but his father had a history of heart problems.

Hood filed a worker's compensation claim against the county, saying he had developed an occupational disease from being a police officer for three years. After a state commission denied Hood's claim, Hood sued the county, seeking a trial in Montgomery County Circuit Court.

Hood's attorney did not return a call for comment. A police spokeswoman said Hood left the force for personal reasons last month.

Maryland law presumes that if public safety officials develop heart diseases, then it was their jobs that caused it and the officials should be eligible for worker's compensation claims, regardless of other possible contributing factors like obesity, smoking habits and family medical history.

Maryland's Court of Appeals has also banned expert testimony in worker's compensation cases from doctors who say there is no link between the stresses of being a public safety official and developing heart disease.

Associate County Attorney Wendy Karpel said the county rarely won when it contested cases involving heart problems.

"It's very few," she said.

The county paid more than $16.5 million in worker's compensation claims during the last fiscal year, with many of those claims related to heart problems.

A large group of retired firefighters, who are in their 70s and have been off the force for more than 20 years, have filed a number of heart problem-related claims recently.

A county prison guard is also suing the county over his heart problems. Guard Steve Daniel said he had no downtime at his job because the prison population was so dangerous.

"You get lunch, 35-minute lunch, but a call goes out and you need to get up and leave that food," Daniel said at a recent worker's compensation hearing.

Copyright 2009 Washington Examiner

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