In a recent case, the First District Court of Appeals in Florida issued an opinion in an appeal involving a benefits dispute between an employer and an employee, with one of the justices concurring in part and dissenting in part. The claimant is an employee of Brevard County Fire and Rescue seeking compensation for treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The Judge of Compensation Claims (JCC) found that the accident in question did not give rise to any need for treatment due to PTSD or any other compensable mental injury. The claimant argued on appeal that first responder claimants can seek workers’ compensation benefits for PTSD under either § 112.1815(2)(a)3 or paragraph (5), or both.
The majority on the court of appeals affirmed the lower court ruling. While the majority agreed with the claimant’s argument that first responder claimants can seek workers’ compensation benefits for PTSD under either § 112.1815(2)(a)3 or paragraph (5), or both, they found that the availability of these claims did not alter the outcome in this case. However, one member of the appeals panel concurred with the majority in part and dissented in part. The dissent engages with the issue of first impression, in this case, establishing the burden of proof that first responders must meet to establish entitlement to medical benefits only for mental or nervous injuries, such as PTSD, arising from their employment where no physical injury accompanies the injury.
The dissent found that the JCC erred in concluding that the only path for first responders to establish the compensability of a mental or nervous injury such as PTSD was via subsection 112.1815(5), Florida Statutes, which was enacted in 2018 to allow for medical and indemnity benefits for PTSD arising out of employment involving eleven specific events. Instead, the plain language of subsection (5) states that it applies to PTSD claims “notwithstanding sub-subparagraph (2)(a)3.” and related statutes, which is a legislative acknowledgment that both provisions were intended to co-exist. Subsection (5) supplements and complements sub-subparagraph (2)(a)3. For this reason, the claimant was entitled to seek medical benefits (but not indemnity benefits) under sub-subparagraph (2)(a)3. The opinion goes on to state that the JCC erroneously concluded that even if a PTSD claim could be brought under sub-subparagraph (2)(a)3., the claimant failed to present clear and convincing evidence of his claimed injury. However, this standard of proof is specified by statute for only situations where the mental injury arises from a physical injury. In the case here, the default standard is a preponderance of the evidence, meaning the claimant’s claim should be reevaluated on remand under the proper standard.
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If you or someone you love has suffered from a workers’ compensation or work-related injury in Florida, the lawyers at Friedman Rodman Frank & Estrada can help you understand your rights and the remedies available to you. Our team of attorneys has successfully advocated for workers throughout Florida for 46 years. Expenses and injuries sustained at work can quickly become overwhelming, and having an experienced roster of workers’ compensation attorneys by your side can make a world of difference for your claim. Contact our team at 305-448-8585 to schedule a free and no-obligation initial consultation with a workers’ compensation lawyer at our office.