Changes to Workers’ Compensation Benefits for First Responders in Florida

Florida Statute 112.18, commonly referred to as the “Heart/Lung Bill,” offers added legal protection for police, fireman and correctional officers who suffer from heart disease, high blood pressure, or tuberculosis. This is codified in Section 112.18(1)(a), which specifically states that:

Any condition or impairment of health of any Florida state, municipal, county, port authority, special tax district, or fire control district firefighter or any law enforcement officer, correctional officer, or correctional probation officer as defined in s. 943.10(1), (2), or (3) caused by tuberculosis, heart disease, or 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. However, any such firefighter or law enforcement officer must have successfully passed a physical examination upon entering into any such service as a firefighter or law enforcement officer, which examination failed to reveal any evidence of any such condition.

With respect to the compensability of a mental or nervous injury suffered by a first responder, Section 112.1815 (2)(a)(3) specifically states that:

For the purpose of determining benefits under this section relating to employment-related accidents and injuries of first responders, the following shall apply: A mental or nervous injury involving a first responder and occurring as a manifestation of a compensable injury must be demonstrated by clear and convincing evidence. For a mental or nervous injury arising out of the employment unaccompanied by a physical injury involving a first responder, only medical benefits under s. 440.13 shall be payable for the mental or nervous injury. However, payment of indemnity as provided in s. 440.15 may not be made unless a physical injury arising out of injury as a first responder accompanies the mental or nervous injury.

However, in the wake of the June 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, the Florida Legislature introduced a bill regarding the compensability of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and mental or nervous injuries for first responders. During the 2018 Regular Session, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting occurred in Parkland, FL and on March 27, 2018, Senate Bill 376 was approved by Governor Rick Scott. As such, effective October 1, 2018, law enforcement officers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians, and paramedics will be entitled to benefits under the Workers’ Compensation Law for mental or nervous injuries, whether or not such injuries are accompanied by physical injuries requiring medical treatment, under specified circumstances.

Based upon these changes, firefighters, paramedics, emergency medical technicians, and law enforcement officers will now be provided with psychiatric care for witnessing a death, or a grievous injury that subsequently leads to death, without also suffering a physical injury under Florida Workers’ Compensation Law.

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