Volusia County Correctional Officer May be Entitled to Recover Workers’ Compensation Disability Benefits for Heart Disease

In Scherer v. Volusia County Dept. of Corrections, a Florida correctional officer stopped working after he was diagnosed with a heart condition in late 2009. The officer returned to work in 2010 after he had a defibrillator implanted into his chest. Due to the officer’s deteriorating health, he ultimately retired from his position in early 2012. In the following year, the former correctional officer underwent a heart transplant.

In 2013, the worker filed five separate petitions for workers’ compensation benefits. Each of the man’s requests relied on the presumption included in Section 112.18 of the Florida Statutes, which states a correctional officer’s heart condition and resulting disability is compensable as a work-related accident, absent competent evidence to the contrary. The officer’s former employer defended against his claim by arguing the presumption included in the law did not apply, since the man failed to file his benefits request within 180 days of leaving his position. The worker countered that the portion of the law that included the 180-day limit applied only to worker disabilities that began after July 1, 2010. A Judge of Compensation Claims (“JCC”) agreed with the man’s employer and denied the correctional officer’s claim.

On appeal, Florida’s First District Court of Appeal stated an occupational disease is not typically compensable under the state’s workers’ compensation system. Despite this, Section 112.18 creates a rebuttable presumption that certain public officers and employees may receive benefits resulting from a disabling occupational disease. The appellate court then said the date the worker’s disability began determined when his claim became compensable.

After examining the language of the statute, the appeals court held that the JCC incorrectly interpreted Section 112.18. The court stated that the subsection that included the 180-day limit only applied to Florida workers’ compensation petitions involving disability dates beginning on or after July 1, 2010. Since the correctional officer alleged two dates of disability, only one of those dates was prior to July 1, 2010, and the man’s workers’ compensation petitions were filed more than 180 days after the second purported disability occurred, the court held the employee was not entitled to the presumption included in Section 112.18 with regard to the latter date. In addition, Florida’s First District Court of Appeal reversed the JCC’s decision denying the officer’s 2009 disability claim and remanded the case for further consideration.

If you are a correctional officer, firefighter, or other public employee who was injured at work in South Florida, you are advised to discuss your rights with a skilled Miami personal injury attorney as soon as you are able. To speak with a caring Florida workers’ compensation lawyer today, give the experienced advocates at Friedman, Rodman & Frank, P.A. a call at (305) 448-8585 or contact us online.

Additional Resources:

Scherer v. Volusia County Dept. of Corrections, Fla: Dist. Court of Appeals, 1st Dist. 2015

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