Unless you are a firefighter or any law enforcement officer, correctional officer, or correctional probation officer, in order to receive workers’ compensation benefits under Chapter 440 of the Florida Statutes for any condition or impairment of health caused by tuberculosis, heart disease, or hypertension, the burden will be on you to establish to a reasonable degree of medical certainty, based on objective relevant medical findings, that the workplace was the major contributing cause — meaning more than 50% — of your condition or impairment of health. See section 440.09(1), Florida Statutes. This can be a daunting task.
If, however, you are a firefighter or any law enforcement officer, correctional officer, or correctional probation officer, “[A]ny condition or impairment of health … caused by tuberculosis, heart disease, or hypertension resulting in total or partial disability or death shall be presumed to have been accidental and to have been suffered in the line of duty….” See section 112.18(1)(a), Florida Statutes. This is a game changer.
Two conditions apply which keep the presumption from being an absolute:
- The “firefighter or law enforcement officer must have successfully passed a physical examination upon entering into any such service as a firefighter or law enforcement officer, which examination failed to reveal any evidence of any such condition.” Section 112.18(1)(a), Florida Statutes.
- The presumption can be overcome by a showing that the condition or impairment was not accidental and suffered in the line of duty. Section 112.18(1)(a), Florida Statutes.
The “firefighter or law enforcement officer must have successfully passed a physical examination upon entering into any such service as a firefighter or law enforcement officer, which examination failed to reveal any evidence of any such condition.”
In City of Homestead/Preferred Gov’t Claims Solutions v. Foust, 242 So.3d 1169 (Fla. 1st DCA 2018), even though a law enforcement officer (LEO) had undergone a physical before becoming an auxilary LEO, he was denied compensation for both heart disease and hypertension because he had not undergone a physical examination upon entering into service as a full-time LEO.
In City of Tavares v. Harper, 230 So.3d 918 (Fla. 1st DCA 2017), a single reported elevated blood pressure reading at the pre-employment physical examination did not constitute evidence of the condition of hypertension. Accordingly, the presumption was not denied to the law enforcement officer.
The presumption can be overcome by a showing that the condition or impairment was not accidental and suffered in the line of duty.
The injury is compensable even if a claimant “present[s] no evidence other than the presumption to support a work-related cause,’’ so long as the employer/carrier doesn’t rebut the presumption. See Punsky v. Clay Cty. Sheriff’s Office, 18 So. 3d 577, 579 (Fla. 1st DCA 2009). An employer/carrier’s case to overcome a § 112.18(1)(a) -presumption essentially requires a demonstration that the accident arose from a non-work-related cause or causes. See City of Jacksonville v. Ratliff, 217 So. 3d 183, 190 (Fla. 1st DCA 2017).
If the claimant relies solely on the statutory presumption, the E/C can rebut that presumption with competent evidence; but if the claimant adduces competent evidence of occupational causation in addition to the presumption, the E/C must have clear and convincing evidence to rebut the presumption. State v. Junod, 217 So.3d 200, 205 (Fla. 1st DCA 2017) and Punsky v. Clay Cty. Sheriff’s Office, 18 So.3d 577, 584 (Fla. 1st DCA) (On Rehearing En Banc) (certifying question of great public importance as to the E/C’s proper burden of proof), review denied , 22 So.3d 539 (Fla. 2009).
This can be a very complex area of law. Nearly 100 cases are reported on the statute. Even if the employer/carrier is providing benefits, it is important to seek the advice of legal counsel as soon as possible. Our law firm, like most, does not charge a fee for an initial consultation, and if we decide to accept your case, it will be handled on a contingency fee basis, which means that we do not receive an attorney’s fee until we are successful in making a recovery for our client.
Contact us at 305-758-4900 or by email to learn your legal rights.
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.
While prompt resolution of your legal matter is our goal, our approach is fundamentally different. Our clients are “people” and not “cases” or “files.” We take the time to build a relationship with our clients, realizing that only through meaningful interaction can we best serve their needs. In this manner, we have been able to best help those requiring legal representation.