4-1-1 on Comp: Disability in FL Heart Disease and Hypertension Claims

Bruce Burk

The Florida Heart and Lung Bill under F.S. 112.18 provides an evidentiary presumption for first responders which relieves them of the obligation to prove that their heart disease or hypertension was caused by their employment. Aside from proving that they have been diagnosed by a covered condition, they must demonstrate that they have a disability which was caused by their heart disease or hypertension. If there is no disability related to the covered condition that also means that the condition is not covered as an occupational disease in addition to the presumption not applying. This article will discuss some of the nuances of disability regarding this bill.

Some perceive disability to mean, “missing work.” While it is true that first responders who miss work can be disabled, missing work does necessitate that someone has a disability.

Disability under 440.151(3) means the incapacity because of the injury to earn in the same or any other employment the wages which the employee was receiving at the time of the injury. This typically translates to the Claimant being put on a light duty or a no work status. Disability is defined as partial or total capacity meaning that the covered condition made the employee ineligible to perform some or all of their duties as a first responder. It is possible for a Claimant to be disabled even though they do not miss any work due to a covered condition.

The date of accident is the date of date of disability. The date of accident is somewhat unknown if there is no disability related to the condition and is often viewed as when symptoms arise or when the condition is reported.

The case law states that the covered condition must be the cause of the disability. This must be demonstrated through medical evidence. The mere assignment of an impairment rating to a covered condition does not constitute a disability. Most importantly, work missed for diagnostic testing does not constitute a disability. In other words, just because the doctor takes the person out of work so they can run some tests does not mean the Claimant is disabled. Here, the doctor could testify that if they had not been asked to undergo the diagnostic testing then they could be performing their duties as a first responder.

Disability can be proved if the Claimant can demonstrate that the covered condition is unstable and that they need medical treatment in order to bring the condition under control. For example, if the Claimant’s blood pressure readings are so high that they are at risk for a stroke or heart attack, then that could be considered a disability.

However, in other cases where a Claimant is hospitalized but later cleared and not actually diagnosed with a covered condition then that may not be a disability. In other words, disability is best shown when the doctor is taking the patient out of work because it is medically necessary to protect their health and prevent their condition from getting worse and causing more damage.