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A first responder who witnessed the rescue of a young boy who drowned in 2015 and who was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder in 2019 following a diving trip with friends that caused nightmares does not qualify for mental injury benefits under Florida law because he did not file a workers compensation claim in time, an appeals court in Florida ruled on Monday.
At issue in the appeal, which reversed the Judge of Compensation Claims’ earlier ruling, is the interpretation of Florida’s 2018 law that allowed first responders to filed workers comp claims for post-traumatic stress disorder as an occupational disease, yet requires claimants to file within 52 weeks of a “qualifying event” that caused the PTSD, according to documents in No. 1D20-1615, filed in the District Court of Appeal of Florida, First District in Tallahassee.
The judge ruled that the “manifestation” and “disablement” of the Palm Beach County Fire rescue worker’s PTSD set the clock for the 52 weeks, and not the qualifying event that was determined to be the boy’s drowning, according to documents.
In reversing, the appeals court wrote that the Florida legislature, which passed its PTSD bill in 2017, “unambiguously chose the qualifying event date as the measuring point for filing a timely claim, and there is no evidence of any contrary legislative intent” and “because the language of the statutory filing requirement for a claim is plain and unambiguous, the rules of statutory construction simply do not come into play to suggest any other meaning other than the time for filing the claim here expired fifty-two weeks after the 2015 qualifying event.”
Gov. Gavin Newsom on Tuesday signed several bills to improve protections for first responders in California by adding post-traumatic stress disorder suffered on the job as a compensable injury, and creating peer support programs for firefighters and other emergency services personnel.