Florida Plaintiff Successfully Rebuts Employer’s Claim that He Failed to Follow Course of Prescribed Treatment for Heart Disease

In a recent decision, the First District Court of Appeal in Florida addressed a worker’s compensation claim revolving around one individual’s heart disease. On appeal, the court had to decide whether the individual qualified for benefits based on a Florida statute stating that if a plaintiff departs from his doctor’s prescribed course of treatment, he may not be eligible for compensation. According to the court, the individual here did not significantly depart from his doctor’s prescribed course of treatment, and thus he was entitled to the benefits he requested.

The court began by examining the facts of the case: the plaintiff here was a deputy sheriff who suffered shortness of breath and chest pain on an overnight shift in February 2019. He was admitted to the hospital for a heart attack and immediately underwent an arterial stent implant procedure.

The plaintiff sought compensation for the injury, and his employer argued that he should not be entitled to compensation because he failed to follow his doctor’s prescribed course of treatment. Under Florida law, if a plaintiff in a worker’s compensation case significantly departs from the physician’s course of prescribed treatment, that plaintiff’s employer may not be responsible for compensating him after an injury.

The judge of compensation claims (JCC) determined that the plaintiff had indeed departed from the prescribed treatment methods by failing to stop smoking and failing to lose weight, as his doctor had suggested. On appeal, though, the plaintiff argued that he was only seeking compensation for heart disease, and the alleged noncompliance with doctor’s orders revolved around conditions other than the heart disease relevant to this case. Thus, the failure to stop smoking and lose weight was unrelated to the claim at hand.

The higher court agreed with the plaintiff, noting that the doctors involved in this case were advising the plaintiff on issues surrounding hypertension, high cholesterol, and obesity. The advice was not specifically related to the heart disease for which the plaintiff was seeking compensation. Thus, the employer failed to meet their burden of proving that the plaintiff failed to follow the course of prescribed treatment for this condition in particular. Given this reality, the plaintiff was, in fact, eligible for compensation for his injuries.

The higher court reversed the JCC’s ruling and remanded the case for an order consistent with its opinion.

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