Appeals Court Overturns Order Denying Florida Man’s Workers’ Compensation Claim for PTSD

In Sierra v. Metropolitan Protective Services, a Florida man was providing security guard services at work when he suffered minor wounds in a knife attack. After receiving emergency room treatment, the guard was referred to two doctors for follow-up treatment. One of the physicians was apparently a professional psychiatrist. The man’s employer accepted compensability for the incident, and he returned to work about one week later.

Next, the security guard’s employer granted the man’s request to transfer to a different work location. Over the course of the following months, however, the worker was apparently involved in two car accidents that were not work-related. Although the first accident was not considered serious, the guard sustained severe harm to his shoulder when his scooter was hit by a motor vehicle in the second incident. Eventually, the man underwent surgery on his shoulder. In addition, the guard did not return to work after the second traffic wreck.

About one month after sustaining his shoulder injury, the security guard sought workers’ compensation benefits for his medical care. The man’s employer authorized several visits to an orthopedic surgeon and a psychiatrist. The man also received unauthorized psychiatric treatment for anxiety and depression through Medicaid. According to the worker, his psychological conditions resulted from the workplace attack and were exacerbated by his second motor vehicle collision. Prior to receiving the authorized psychiatric treatment, the worker admitted that he had a history of psychological problems and disclosed his unauthorized psychological treatment.

Eventually, the authorized psychiatrist diagnosed the worker with post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”) and recommended weekly treatment. The guard apparently did not follow up with the psychiatrist. At around the same time, an authorized physician found that the worker reached his maximum medical improvement for the work-related assault and stated the security guard was zero percent impaired.

The guard again sought authorization for psychological treatment as well as the costs associated with his legal fees. After a lengthy back and forth, the employer eventually defended against the guard’s claim for psychiatric care. According to the employer, the two non-workplace automobile accidents broke the chain of causation under § 440.09. As part of its defense, the employer submitted testimony from an independent medical examiner, stating the worker’s need for psychological treatment was only 25 percent attributable to the workplace attack.

During a hearing on the matter, the guard argued it was too late for the employer to deny compensability for his PTSD. The man also objected to the testimony provided by the independent medical examiner. A Judge of Compensation Claims (“JCC”) overruled the guard’s evidentiary objections. The JCC also noted the employer’s PTSD defense without issuing any findings on the issue. The JCC ultimately denied each of the security guard’s claims, including his request for legal expenses.

On appeal to Florida’s First District Court of Appeals, the worker argued the JCC committed error with regard to his request for legal fees, the JCC’s failure to rule that the employer waived its right to deny compensability for his PTSD, and the judge’s rejection of his evidentiary objections. After examining the record, the appellate court modified the JCC’s order and stated the legal fees issue was unresolved. The court also reversed and remanded the JCC’s order with regard to the guard’s waiver claims because the JCC failed to articulate his reasons for denying the worker’s request. Finally, Florida’s First District Court of Appeals affirmed the JCC’s ruling with regard to the man’s evidentiary objections.

If you or someone close to you was hurt at work in South Florida, you should speak with a caring lawyer who can help you safeguard your rights. To schedule a free consultation with a hardworking Miami workers’ compensation attorney, contact Friedman, Rodman & Frank, P.A. through our website or give us a call today at (305) 448-8585.

Additional Resources:

Sierra v. Metropolitan Protective Services, Fla: Dist. Court of Appeals, 1st Dist. 2015

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