Miami Partner Lissette Gonzalez and Tampa Partner Mark Tinker recently obtained a favorable opinion out of the First District Court of Appeal affirming the JCC’s order denying workers’ compensation benefits for failure to satisfy the “disability” requirement in section 440.151, Florida Statutes (the heart-lung statute).
In Friesen v. State of Florida Highway Patrol, No. 1D21-1353, 2023 WL 4101328 (Fla. 1st DCA June 21, 2023), the Appellant, a Florida Highway Patrol Officer, sought workers’ compensation benefits under the heart-lung statute, asserting that a doctor’s instruction to remain in the doctor’s office while medication took effect to lower his blood pressure rendered him “disabled.” The First District disagreed and took the opportunity to clarify the “murky and unsettled precedent.”
The Court recognized that it inconsistently defined “disability” for purposes of section 440.151. In some cases, the Court required that a claimant suffer actual wage loss to qualify as disabled, whereas in other cases, disability turned on the claimant’s capacity to earn income, regardless of whether the claimant received his or her salary.
However, in 2003, the legislature amended section 440.151 and redefined “disability.” After the 2003 amendment, “disability” hinged solely on the claimant’s ability to earn income, rather than actual wage loss. This meant that absences from work to diagnose a condition did not demonstrate disability because detection and diagnosis always required some type of medical testing or evaluation.
Ultimately, the Court concluded that for post-2003 workers’ compensation benefits, “disablement” in section 440.151, may be satisfied with proof of actual wage loss, or with evidence that the claimant has experienced incapacity to earn in the same or any other employment the wage that the claimant was receiving because of the injury. The period of incapacity must similarly result from treatment for a qualifying condition and not testing for purely diagnostic purposes.
Now, it is clear that remaining in a doctor’s office to allow time for medication to take effect without further restrictions does not satisfy the definition of “disablement.” However, a period of off-work status or restricted duty resulting from a medical procedure may satisfy disability if such procedure constitutes, even in part, treatment for a previously diagnosed qualifying condition.
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