Florida Appeals Court Upholds Compensation Claim, Affirming Lower Court Decision

Recently, the First District Court of Appeals in Florida issued an opinion in an appeal involving a workers’ compensation claim from a worker serving as a firefighter who suffered a heart attack and subsequently received a heart transplant after being diagnosed with COVID-19. According to the record, the firefighter was hired by Seminole County as a firefighter in 1993 after a clean pre-employment physical. In the early 2000s, he suffered cardiac problems that Seminole County accepted as compensable. Following his diagnosis, he received yearly treatment. In December of 2020, the firefighter tested positive for COVID-19. In January of 2021, he suffered a heart attack. After multiple surgeries, he received a heart transplant. Following his procedures, the firefighter filed a Petition for Benefits seeking indemnity and medical benefits on grounds that his heart attack stemmed from “heart disease” and thus the statutory presumption of work causation under section 112.18 applied to his case. Initially, Seminole County conditionally accepted the heart attack as compensable, but the county later denied compensability.

The Facts of the Case

The firefighter sought compensability under section 112.18.2 while Seminole County asserted as a defense, among others, that the claim was denied in its entirety because the criteria for the presumption were not satisfied. At the merits hearing, it withdrew the defense and stipulated that section 112.18 applied and that the worker was entitled to the statutory presumption of work causation. As a result, the sole issue before the Judge of Compensation Claims (JCC) was whether Seminole County successfully rebutted the presumption of work causation. At the hearing, the JCC accepted Seminole County’s argument that COVID-19 caused the worker’s heart disease, heart attack, and heart transplant. However, the JCC also found that Seminole County failed to rebut the presumption of work caused by proving that the worker contracted the virus outside of work. The JCC summarily denied Seminole County’s motion for rehearing.

The Decision

On appeal, Seminole County argued that the JCC reversibly erred in finding that the county failed to rebut the statutory presumption of work caused by the worker’s alleged condition or impairment. Specifically, it asserted that (1) the JCC erred when it rejected unrefuted medical testimony and (2) that competent evidence did not support the JCC conclusion that Seminole County failed to rebut the statutory presumption of work causation with proof that the COVID-19 infection was non-work related. Additionally, the county argued that section 112.18 creates an unconstitutional, irrebuttable presumption when COVID-19 causes heart disease in a first responder. The appellate court did not find these arguments persuasive. In the appellate opinion, the court found that there was competent evidence to support the JCC determination and declined to address Seminole County’s constitutional argument, affirming the JCC decision.

Have You Suffered Injuries While at Work

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.


Contact Information