First Responders such as police officers, firefighters, and other emergency medical personnel are undoubtedly heros, often willing to risk their own their own lives to save someone they have never met. Due to this they should be awarded certain rights and benefits that go above and beyond that of the everyday citizen. Luckily, in Florida the legislature has recognized this and given First Responders extra protections and lower burdens of proof when it comes to disability benefits.
Under Florida Statute § 112.18, often referred to as the Heart and Lung Bill, firefighters and law enforcement officers are given special provisions when it comes to disability. In short, any first responder who falls within the statute and suffers any condition or impairment of health caused by tuberculosis, heart disease, or hypertension that results in partial or total disability is presumed to have been accidental and suffered in the line of duty. An employer may only overcome this presumption by clear and convincing evidence that the injury is due to non-work related causes. It is not enough to merely show that the cause is unknown. LeBlanc v. City of West Palm Beach, 72 So. 3d 181 (Fla. 1st DCA 2011). This is in direct contrast to the burden of proof that an average citizen must show who suffers from these same type of injuries. For example, in order for a non first responder to have suffered a compensable heart attack, the employee must first prove that there
was no relevant preexisting condition. In addition to the above, the injured worker must also show that the employment subjected the employee to unusual physical exertion and that this was the major contributing cause of the injury.
This is not to say that the presumption cannot be overcome. The presumption does not apply unless the qualified firefighter or police officer successfully passed a preemployment physical examination. Fla. Stat. § 112.18(1).
We represent many firefighters and police officers throughout the state of Florida. If you are a first responder, we would love to discuss your case and explain all your options in an attempt to make sure that the employer is correctly applying the statute and not unjustly withholding benefits. This is why it is important to hire a workers’ compensation attorney who handles these types of situations and knows what your entitled to. If you or someone you know is in this situation, please give us a call at (877) 817-4127.