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  • Florida Appellate Court Overturns Denial of Workers’ Compensation Benefits to Employee Suffering From Work-Related PTSD

Florida Appellate Court Overturns Denial of Workers’ Compensation Benefits to Employee Suffering From Work-Related PTSD

In a recent decision, a Florida Court of Appeal overturned a lower court’s denial of workers’ compensation benefits to an employee who claimed to be suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, stemming from a work-related incident that occurred on October 19, 2010. Shortly after the incident, the defendant-employer authorized the employee to seek psychiatric care for her injury.

In October 2012, the employer transferred the employee’s  care to an authorized psychiatrist. During a hearing before the assigned Judge of Compensation Claims (“JCC”), the employee’s psychiatrist testified “that [the employee’s] workplace accident caused PTSD leaving her temporarily and totally unable to work.” 

At the conclusion of that hearing, however, the JCC rejected the psychiatrist’s testimony that the employee qualified for Temporary Total Disability (“TTD”) status. Instead, the JCC concluded that the psychiatrist had failed to consider that the employee had “returned to work with the Employer after the workplace accident, continued to work without lost time (except for childbirth), resigned in May of 2011, and thereafter worked for Wal-Mart, without a loss in time, until a leave of absence in August 2012.”

The JCC also questioned the veracity of the employee’s claims and suggested that the employee’s motivations for not working were not related to the workplace accident in question. Finding “‘no credible medical evidence of disability or inability to work,'” the JCC denied the employee’s TTD claim.

On appeal, the First District Court of Appeal reversed the JCC’s ruling, finding that the employee had satisfied her initial burden by producing medical evidence from the psychiatrist indicating that she suffered from an inability to work due to her “compensable PTSD.” After producing this evidence, the burden shifted to the employer to provide contrary medical evidence indicating that the employee’s work status “had in fact changed from temporary total disability.” During the hearing, the employer failed to submit any such evidence for the time periods at issue.

The appellate court also concluded that the JCC’s rejection of the psychiatrist’s opinion regarding the employee’s work status was irrelevant. On this point, the court stated that “‘the resolution of this issue of [the employee’s] TTD benefits does not turn on the JCC’s prerogative as fact-finder to accept a particular expert’s testimony . . . but rather on whether [the employee] should have reasonably relied on the instruction given her by her authorized treating physician.'”

Additionally, the appellate court concluded that the JCC’s rejection of the psychiatrist’s recommendation for inpatient care was conflicting “because the JCC presumably relied on [the psychiatrist’s] recommendation when he awarded ongoing psychiatric care,” noting that “it is unclear how [the JCC] parsed the doctor’s testimony to limit the award of psychiatric care in this way.” The appellate court concluded that the psychiatrist’s testimony supported an evaluation by an inpatient treatment facility at the very least.

If you have suffered an on-the-job injury, you may be entitled to compensation. The workers’ compensation lawyers at The Hoffman Firm have provided experienced legal guidance to countless individuals throughout South Florida. Navigating the workers’ compensation system can be confusing and stressful. At The Hoffman Firm, we will guide you through every step of the process and help you assert your rights aggressively. We offer a free consultation, so you have nothing to lose. Call us now at (800) 223-1866 or contact us online to set up a consultation today.

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Evan A. Hoffman

Evan A. Hoffman

Mr. Hoffman’s philosophy is "our knowledge and experience is your best defense." He has been a featured author on criminal law issues such as driving under the influence, domestic violence and illegal searches.

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