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A Florida appellate court said a police officer who filed a claim for post-traumatic stress disorder after responding to a school shooting was eligible for benefits because while the incident happened before a change in state law, his disability didn’t begin until he was placed on administrative leave.
The claimant was a police officer for the City of Hallandale Beach who was among the officers who responded to the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February 2018, according to No. 1D21-2138, filed Nov. 30 in the Court of Appeal for the 1st District of Florida.
While helping to clear students and secure the building, the officer saw the bodies of the victims, including teenagers. He was placed on administrative leave in November 2018 after he started suffering symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
He was eventually placed on light duty and subsequently terminated around January 2022. The officer filed multiple claims for indemnity and medical benefits pursuant to Florida law, which went into effect eight months after the shooting — on Oct. 1, 2018 — and which now allows first responders to receive benefits for mental stress injuries that are not accompanied by a physical injury.
The employer claimed the accident date for his claim happened on the day of the shooting, which was before the law changed. The officer argued that the date of disability controls, and that the date of disability should be the day he was placed on leave, which was after the law changed.
A judge of compensation claims agreed with the officer and found the date of the accident was in November 2018 when he went on administrative leave.
The Court of Appeal for the 1st District of Florida affirmed, rejecting the city’s argument that the controlling date of the accident ought to have been the date of the exposure to the event causing the PTSD.
“The ‘P’ in PTSD stands for ‘post,’” the court wrote. “By its very name, PTSD cannot occur until sometime after a traumatic event occurs.”
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