Florida Workers’ Compensation Law: Proving Medical Causation

Chapter 440, the body of statutes governing Florida’s workers’ compensation system, places on the injured worker, also known as the Claimant, the burden of proving the accident caused his or her injuries. Almost always, medical evidence is required to meet the burden.

Certain elements must be established to meet the burden. Shown below is the information I rely on to keep from missing one or more critical elements. Also helpful in realizing the essential medical proof is Form DWC-25, Florida Workers’ Compensation Uniform Medical Treatment/Status Reporting Form, the form all authorized doctors are required to complete and submit to the carrier after every appointment.

Florida Statute 440.09 Coverage.—- (1) The employer must pay compensation or furnish benefits required by this chapter if the employee suffers an accidental compensable injury or death arising out of work performed in the course and the scope of employment. The injury, its occupational cause, and any resulting manifestations or disability must be established to a reasonable degree of medical certainty, based on objective relevant medical findings, and the accidental compensable injury must be the major contributing cause of any resulting injuries. For purposes of this section, “major contributing cause” means the cause which is more than 50 percent responsible for the injury as compared to all other causes combined for which treatment or benefits are sought. In cases involving occupational disease or repetitive exposure, both causation and sufficient exposure to support causation must be proven by clear and convincing evidence. Pain or other subjective complaints alone, in the absence of objective relevant medical findings, are not compensable. For purposes of this section, “objective relevant medical findings” are those objective findings that correlate to the subjective complaints of the injured employee and are confirmed by physical examination findings or diagnostic testing. Establishment of the causal relationship between a compensable accident and injuries for conditions that are not readily observable must be by medical evidence only, as demonstrated by physical examination findings or diagnostic testing. Major contributing cause must be demonstrated by medical evidence only.

Elements of 440.09 requiring medical testimony:

  • The injury, its occupational cause, and any resulting manifestations or disability must be established to a reasonable degree of medical certainty,
  • based on objective relevant medical findings,
  • and the accidental compensable injury must be the major contributing cause of any resulting injuries.
  • For purposes of this section, “major contributing cause” means the cause which is more than 50 percent responsible for the injury as compared to all other causes combined for which treatment or benefits are sought.
  • In cases involving occupational disease or repetitive exposure, both causation and sufficient exposure to support causation must be proven by clear and convincing evidence. (Note: What does “medical certainty” mean? Who knows. Black’s Law Dictionary says that it is more than probable. Regular dictionary says certain means: inevitable, sure to happen, indisputable, dependable. If the doctor asks what it means, tell him or her that it is something that is reasonably sure to happen.)
  • Pain or other subjective complaints alone, in the absence of objective relevant medical findings, are not compensable.
  • For purposes of this section, “objective relevant medical findings” are those objective findings that correlate to the subjective complaints of the injured employee and are confirmed by physical examination findings or diagnostic testing.
  • Establishment of the causal relationship between a compensable accident and injuries for conditions that are not readily observable must be by medical evidence only, as demonstrated by physical examination findings or diagnostic testing.
  • Major contributing cause must be demonstrated by medical evidence only.

Florida Statute Section 440.02(1): When used in this chapter, unless the context clearly requires otherwise, the following terms shall have the following meanings:
(1) “Accident” means only an unexpected or unusual event or result that happens suddenly. Disability or death due to the accidental acceleration or aggravation of a venereal disease or of a disease due to the habitual use of alcohol or controlled substances or narcotic drugs, or a disease that manifests itself in the fear of or dislike for an individual because of the individual’s race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, or handicap is not an injury by accident arising out of the employment. Subject to s. 440.15(5), if a preexisting disease or anomaly is accelerated or aggravated by an accident arising out of and in the course of employment, only acceleration of death or acceleration or aggravation of the preexisting condition reasonably attributable to the accident is compensable, with respect to any compensation otherwise payable under this chapter. An injury or disease caused by exposure to a toxic substance, including, but not limited to, fungus or mold, is not an injury by accident arising out of the employment unless there is clear and convincing evidence establishing that exposure to the specific substance involved, at the levels to which the employee was exposed, can cause the injury or disease sustained by the employee.

Elements of 440.02(1) requiring medical testimony:

  • Subject to s. 440.15(5), if a preexisting disease or anomaly is accelerated or aggravated by an accident arising out of and in the course of employment, only acceleration of death or acceleration or aggravation of the preexisting condition reasonably attributable to the accident is compensable….
  • An injury or disease caused by exposure to a toxic substance, including, but not limited to, fungus or mold, is not an injury by accident arising out of the employment unless there is clear and convincing evidence establishing that exposure to the specific substance involved, at the levels to which the employee was exposed, can cause the injury or disease sustained by the employee.


Florida Statute Section 440.15 Compensation for disability.—-Compensation for disability shall be paid to the employee, subject to the limits provided in s.440.12(2), as follows:
(5) SUBSEQUENT INJURY.—-
(a) The fact that an employee has suffered previous disability, impairment, anomaly, or disease, or received compensation therefor, shall not preclude her or him from benefits, as specified in paragraph (b), for a subsequent aggravation or acceleration of the preexisting condition or preclude benefits for death resulting therefrom, except that no benefits shall be payable if the employee, at the time of entering into the employment of the employer by whom the benefits would otherwise be payable, falsely represents herself or himself in writing as not having previously been disabled or compensated because of such previous disability, impairment, anomaly, or disease and the employer detrimentally relies on the misrepresentation.
(b) If a compensable injury, disability, or need for medical care, or any portion thereof, is a result of aggravation or acceleration of a preexisting condition, or is the result of merger with a preexisting condition, only the disabilities and medical treatment associated with such compensable injury shall be payable under this chapter, excluding the degree of disability or medical conditions existing at the time of the impairment rating or at the time of the accident, regardless of whether the preexisting condition was disabling at the time of the accident or at the time of the impairment rating and without considering whether the preexisting condition would be disabling without the compensable accident. The degree of permanent impairment or disability attributable to the accident or injury shall be compensated in accordance with this section, apportioning out the preexisting condition based on the anatomical impairment rating attributable to the preexisting condition. Medical benefits shall be paid apportioning out the percentage of the need for such care attributable to the preexisting condition. As used in this paragraph, “merger” means the combining of a preexisting permanent impairment or disability with a subsequent compensable permanent impairment or disability which, when the effects of both are considered together, result in a permanent impairment or disability rating which is greater than the sum of the two permanent impairment or disability ratings when each impairment or disability is considered individually.

Elements of 440.15(5) that may require medical testimony:

  • (a) The fact that an employee has suffered previous disability, impairment, anomaly, or disease, or received compensation therefor, shall not preclude her or him from benefits, as specified in paragraph (b), for a subsequent aggravation or acceleration of the preexisting condition or preclude benefits for death resulting therefrom
  • (b) If a compensable injury, disability, or need for medical care, or any portion thereof, is a result of aggravation or acceleration of a preexisting condition, or is the result of merger with a preexisting condition,
  • only the disabilities and medical treatment associated with such compensable injury shall be payable under this chapter,
  • excluding the degree of disability or medical conditions existing at the time of the impairment rating or at the time of the accident,regardless of whether the preexisting condition was disabling at the time of the accident or at the time of the impairment rating and
  • without considering whether the preexisting condition would be disabling without the compensable accident.
  • The degree of permanent impairment or disability attributable to the accident or injury shall be compensated in accordance with this section, apportioning out the preexisting condition based on the anatomical impairment rating attributable to the preexisting condition.
  • Medical benefits shall be paid apportioning out the percentage of the need for such care attributable to the preexisting condition.
  • “merger” means the combining of a preexisting permanent impairment or disability with a subsequent compensable permanent impairment or disability which, when the effects of both are considered together, result in a permanent impairment or disability rating which is greater than the sum of the two permanent impairment or disability ratings when each impairment or disability is considered individually.

Other pertinent provisions (passages started in bold):

Florida Statute 440.13 Medical services and supplies; penalty for violations; limitations.—-
(1) DEFINITIONS.—-As used in this section, the term:
(d) “Certified health care provider” means a health care provider who has been certified by the department or who has entered an agreement with a licensed managed care organization to provide treatment to injured workers under this section. Certification of such health care provider must include documentation that the health care provider has read and is familiar with the portions of the statute, impairment guides, practice parameters, protocols of treatment, and rules which govern the provision of remedial treatment, care, and attendance.
(h) “Health care provider” means a physician or any recognized practitioner who provides skilled services pursuant to a prescription or under the supervision or direction of a physician and who has been certified by the department as a health care provider. The term “health care provider” includes a health care facility.
(l) “Medically necessary” or “medical necessity” means any medical service or medical supply which is used to identify or treat an illness or injury, is appropriate to the patient”s diagnosis and status of recovery, and is consistent with the location of service, the level of care provided, and applicable practice parameters. The service should be widely accepted among practicing health care providers, based on scientific criteria, and determined to be reasonably safe. The service must not be of an experimental, investigative, or research nature.
(q) “Physician” or “doctor” means a physician licensed under chapter 458, an osteopathic physician licensed under chapter 459, a chiropractic physician licensed under chapter 460, a podiatric physician licensed under chapter 461, an optometrist licensed under chapter 463, or a dentist licensed under chapter 466, each of whom must be certified by the department as a health care provider.
(3) PROVIDER ELIGIBILITY; AUTHORIZATION.—-
(a) As a condition to eligibility for payment under this chapter, a health care provider who renders services must be a certified health care provider and must receive authorization from the carrier before providing treatment. This paragraph does not apply to emergency care. The department shall adopt rules to implement the certification of health care providers.
(16) STANDARDS OF CARE.—-The following standards of care shall be followed in providing medical care under this chapter:
(a) Abnormal anatomical findings alone, in the absence of objective relevant medical findings, shall not be an indicator of injury or illness, a justification for the provision of remedial medical care or the assignment of restrictions, or a foundation for limitations.

This is a rough guide and should not be considered comprehensive, although it may cover all of the essential elements.

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Jeffrey P. Gale, P.A. is a South Florida based law firm committed to the judicial system and to representing and obtaining justice for individuals – the poor, the injured, the forgotten, the voiceless, the defenseless and the damned, and to protecting the rights of such people from corporate and government oppression. We do not represent government, corporations or large business interests.

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