Florida Appeals Court Upholds Lower Court Decision in Law Enforcement Workers’ Compensation Case

In a recent case, the First District Court of Appeals for the State of Florida issued an opinion in an appeal involving a claim for compensability of hypertension and heart disease brought under section 112.18, Florida Statutes (2019), commonly known as the “heart-lung statute.” The appellant, a law enforcement officer, filed a claim for compensation under the heart-lung statute and was denied by his employer, Florida Highway Patrol, which is the appellee. The Judge of Compensation Claims (JCC) denied the appellant’s claim, finding that he failed to satisfy “disability,” a prerequisite for compensability of occupational disease under the law. After the denial, the appellant appealed the decision.

The appellant was hired by the Florida Highway Patrol in 2001 after undergoing a pre-employment physical. In 2008, he was diagnosed with hypertension after consulting a doctor for headaches and redness in the face he was experiencing. At that point, the appellant was restricted from working for a few days and prescribed medication. He did not file workers’ compensation paperwork and did not pursue a workers’ compensation claim. Then in early 2019, while visiting a hospital to investigate a vehicle crash, the appellant asked a nurse to check his blood pressure. The nurse informed him that his blood pressure was high, and recommended he consult a doctor.

The next day, the appellant met with his personal doctor and alerted his employer. The employer then scheduled an appointment for him with a cardiologist, Dr. Gupta, for evaluation. At his first appointment with Dr. Gupta, his blood pressure was 160/96, and described by the doctor as “uncontrolled.” Dr. Gupta diagnosed him with hypertension and obesity, changing his medication and recommending an echocardiogram (EKG). At that point, Dr. Gupta did not take him out of work, assign work restrictions, or refer him to the hospital. The appellant returned to Dr. Gupta in February for his EKG and planned to report to work immediately after the appointment. Dr. Gupta changed his medication again, counseled him on obesity and lifestyle changes, and recommended a stress test. He also requested that Friesen remain in the waiting room for ten to fifteen minutes for the medication to take effect and lower his blood pressure. The appellant waited fifteen minutes and his blood pressure improved. Again, no work restrictions were assigned. After continuing to work full time, in mid-February, his employer issued a Notice of Denial, asserting that hypertension or heart disease must be accompanied by disability to be compensable. The appellant then filed a Petition for Benefits, requesting workers’ compensation benefits.

The JCC found the appellant to not have a disability, and the appellant moved for a rehearing and requested to vacate the final compensation order. The JCC rejected the motion, affirming the initial decision, and the appellant subsequently filed an appeal. On appeal, he argued that the JCC erred by: (1) concluding that there was no evidence that he was incapacitated, either totally or partially, from performing his employment; (2) misconstruing the law of disability as applicable to the heart-lung statute; (3) misinterpreting the testimony of his doctor and concluding that his opinion was a retroactive, speculative opinion which was contrary to the facts; and (4) ignoring the uncontroverted medical guidelines and facts establishing disability.

The appellate court affirmed the lower court on the fourth issue without comment and addressed the additional arguments in turn. The appeals court consolidated the first and second arguments on appeal to whether Dr. Gupta’s instruction for the appellant to wait in his office for the medication to take effect rendered him “disabled” for the purposes of the law. On this issue, the court disagreed, upholding the lower court decision. Subsequently, the appeals court found no reversible errors in the lower court decision, affirming it in full.

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.

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