What Do You Think: Did Hypertension on Physical Defeat Presumption for Officer?

Frank Ferreri

Naples, FL (WorkersCompensation.com) – Pre-employment physicals are important safety tools before someone starts work as a law enforcement officer.

And, as a Florida city recently learned, they can also make the difference in a workers’ compensation case.

While he was a teenager, a law enforcement officer underwent a liver transplant. Due to medication he was required to take after that procedure, he experienced hypertension. Although he was hired by his employer city several years after he stopped taking the medication, as part of a pre-employment physical examination, he responded “yes” to a question about any history of high blood pressure.

In connection with the physical, the officer’s doctor submitted a note to the city indicating that the officer’s hypertension had returned to normal of ceasing the medications.

Several years into his job, the officer was diagnosed with primary hypertension. To obtain workers’ compensation benefits for his condition, the officer asserted an entitlement under a Florida presumption declaring that law enforcement officers’ hypertension is occupationally caused.

Both the city and the officer obtained experts via independent medical examinations. The officer’s IME doctor concluded that the officer had primary hypertension that did not develop until he was on the job and that it was different from the condition he experienced while on the medication.

The city’s IME doctor opined that the officer had secondary hypertension that was “different” from what he had previously experienced. The parties then stipulated that the officer’s pre-employment physical contained evidence of secondary hypertension.

The judge of compensation claims denied compensability of the officer’s hypertension, concluding that the presumption did not apply due to the officer’s history of hypertension related to the medication he had previously taken. After the JCC denied the officer’s request for rehearing, the officer appealed to court.

Under the presumption, “any condition or impairment of health of any … law enforcement officer … caused by … hypertension resulting in total or partial disability or death shall be presumed to have been accidental and to have been suffered in the line of duty unless the contrary be shown by competent evidence.”

For the presumption to apply, an officer must have successfully passed the physical examination for entering service as a law enforcement officer, and the exam must have failed to reveal evidence of hypertension.

Did the presumption apply to the officer’s claim?

A. Yes. Evidence of the officer’s hypertension during his pre-employment physical meant the presumption did not apply to his case.

B. No. While the officer had hypertension in the past, both doctors indicated that it was different from what he experienced after beginning employment with the city.

If you selected A, you agreed with the court in Holcombe v. City of Naples, No. 1D20-565 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 09/15/21), which upheld the JCC’s ruling and explained that the officer had a history of hypertension that the exam revealed, defeating the presumption.

The court noted that the stipulation was binding on the officer and indicated that his pre-employment physical contained evidence of hypertension, meaning that the presumption did not apply.

This feature is not intended as legal advice.

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