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Police officer who responded to Parkland shooter is eligible for workers’ compensation for PTSD

Florida

,

United States

The appellant was a police officer who responded to the active shooter at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland on February 14, 2018. While helping to clear students and secure the building, the appellant saw the bodies of deceased students who had been killed by the shooter. Shortly afterward, he began experiencing episodes of anger, nightmares, and anxiety. In October 2018, he realized his symptoms may be due to post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”) and went on administrative leave on November 19, 2018. 

The appellant filed multiple Petitions for Benefits (“PFB”) requesting indemnity benefits and medical treatment. The appellant’s employer, the City of Hallandale Beach, argued that he was not eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. At issue was whether the employee’s injury “occurred” before or after the relevant statute was changed to make PTSD a compensable occupational disease.

Disposition

In City of Hallandale Beach/Preferred Gov't.al Claims Servs. v. Casey, No. 1D21-2138 (Fla. App. 2022), the Florida First District Court of Appeal held that the employee was entitled to workers’ compensation benefits.

The relevant statute

Fla. Sta. § 112.1815(5), which took effect on October 1, 2018, made PTSD, on its own, a compensable occupational disease if it was suffered by a first responder and resulted from certain events, including "[s]eeing for oneself a deceased minor" (at 2-3). Prior to October 1, 2018, a first responder could not receive indemnity benefits unless a physical injury accompanied the mental or nervous injury (at 2-3).

The employer’s position 

The employer acknowledged that the employee was a law enforcement officer diagnosed with work-related PTSD, and acknowledged that the events of February 14, 2018, constituted a statutorily defined qualifying event. However, the employee argued that the injury occurred prior to October 1, 2018, and therefore, the employee was not entitled to benefits under the statute.

The date of disability, not the date of the accident, controls entitlement to benefits 

The Court held that the compensability of an occupational disease is determined by the date of disability, rather than the date of the harmful exposure or the date of the diagnosis of the medical condition. The date of disability of the appellant-employee was the date he was placed on administrative leave, not the date the event that led to his PTSD took place (at 3).

With respect to wage indemnity, the Court explained that an employee does not suffer a compensable loss from an occupational disease until the employee experiences 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" (at 4). The Court held that, in this case, the date of the accident was November 19, 2018, the date that the employee went on administrative leave, which was after the effective date of subsection 112.1815(5). Accordingly, the employee was entitled to the claimed workers’ compensation benefits under section 112.1815(5) (at 5).

December 20, 2022
City of Hallandale Beach/Preferred Gov't.al Claims Servs. v. Casey, No. 1D21-2138 (Fla. App. 2022)
Author: Carli Kadish
Florida Courts