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A Florida appellate court overturned a denial of benefits for a paramedic suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, saying the trial judge erroneously concluded she was not exposed to a qualifying event on her last day of work and was not entitled to benefits pursuant to statutory changes enacted in October 2018.
The appeals court said the paramedic correctly asserted that her injury date was on her last day of employment in November 2018, at which point the statutory changes allowing first responders to seek indemnity benefits for PTSD had already gone into effect, according to Nos. 1D19-4601 and 1D20-2383, filed in the First District Court of Appeal on Nov. 2.
“Because the employee’s right to compensation by statute does not accrue until the occupational disease causes a loss, the date or dates an employee suffers exposure or contracts the disease would not be at all relevant to determine the date of the accident in this context,” the court said. “The JCC’s ‘last injurious exposure’ approach, then, was not commensurate with what the statute requires.”
The paramedic started working as an emergency medical technician and paramedic for Polk County Fire Rescue in August 2015. In the three years that followed she responded several serious accidents and incidents, including deadly acts of domestic violence, and that which included injuries and death of children.
She began experiencing signs of possible post-traumatic stress disorder in 2016. She sought assistance with her symptoms from a critical incident stress management team, which was available to first responders. She also began seeing a therapist in 2017, but her trauma continued to worsen. She stopped working in November 2018.
She filed a comp claim citing a 2017 change in state law that allowed first responders to receive medical benefits for a mental or nervous injury that was unaccompanied by a physical injury.
Polk County conceded that the woman suffers from PTSD that developed because of her exposure to the on-the-job traumatic events, but it denied her claim because all of the qualifying events that led to her PTSD occurred before the effective date of the 2018 amendment. A judge of compensation denied her claim for medical benefits and wage benefits.
The appeals court reversed, stating the paramedic suffered PTSD as a result of being exposed to various traumas between 2016 and June 2018, but she did not experience a compensable loss of wages until her PTSD led to an “incapacity” to work in November 2018, making it the date of her accident.
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