Under the current law, for individuals that are NOT first responders, a mental or nervous injury due to stress, fright, or excitement without an accompanying physical injury requiring medical treatment is not considered an injury “by accident arising out of the employment” under the workers’ compensation law, and payment of indemnity benefits is not allowed for such injuries. Further, any compensable mental or nervous injury (one accompanied by a physical injury) must be demonstrated by clear and convincing medical evidence by a licensed psychiatrist. The compensable physical injury as determined by reasonable medical certainty must be at least 50 percent responsible for the mental or nervous condition.
Between 7/1/13 and 9/30/18, Florida Statute Section 112.1815(3) stated that, in relation to First Responders only, “a mental or nervous injury arising out of the employment unaccompanied by a physical injury involving a first responder, only medical benefits under s. 440.13 shall be payable for the mental or nervous injury. However, payment of indemnity as provided in s. 440.15 may not be made unless a physical injury arising out of injury as a first responder accompanies the mental or nervous injury. Benefits for a first responder are not subject to any limitation on temporary benefits under s. 440.093 or the 1-percent limitation on permanent psychiatric impairment benefits under s. 440.15(3)(c).”
Accordingly, prior to the Law Changes as of 10/1/18, First Responders without an accompanying physical injury were entitled to receipt of medical treatment only for mental or nervous injuries. However, because the Legislature has determined that our First Responders and their mental health is a matter of significant state interest, SB 347 was submitted and unanimously passed by both houses in March 2018. According to the Senate Committee Report associated with Bill 376, in 2016, an “estimated 20 percent of firefighters and paramedics had PTSD. Preexisting mental health conditions may be exacerbated and new mental health conditions may occur due to extremely emotionally and physically demanding working conditions.” In 2015, “a survey of 4,000 first responders found that 6.6 percent had attempted suicide, which is more than 10 times the rate in the general population.” Furthermore, the concern has been expressed that first responders may underreport mental health conditions as a result of stigma associated with seeking treatment for those conditions.
The current version of Fla. Stat. Section 112.1815(5)(a) provides:
“For the purposes of this section and chapter 440, and notwithstanding sub-subparagraph (2)(a)3. and ss. 440.093 and 440.151(2), posttraumatic stress disorder, as described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, published by the American Psychiatric Association, suffered by a first responder is a compensable occupational disease within the meaning of subsection (4) and s. 440.151 if:
- The posttraumatic stress disorder resulted from the first responder acting within the course of his or her employment as provided in s. 440.091; and
- The first responder is examined and subsequently diagnosed with such disorder by a licensed psychiatrist who is an authorized treating physician as provided in chapter 440 due to one of the following events:
- Seeing for oneself a deceased minor;
- Directly witnessing the death of a minor;
- Directly witnessing an injury to a minor who subsequently died before or upon arrival at a hospital emergency department;
- Participating in the physical treatment of an injured minor who subsequently died before or upon arrival at a hospital emergency department;
- Manually transporting an injured minor who subsequently died before or upon arrival at a hospital emergency department;
- Seeing for oneself a decedent whose death involved grievous bodily harm of a nature that shocks the conscience;
- Directly witnessing a death, including suicide, that involved grievous bodily harm of a nature that shocks the conscience;
- Directly witnessing a homicide regardless of whether the homicide was criminal or excusable, including murder, mass killing as defined in 28 U.S.C. s. 530C, manslaughter, self-defense, misadventure, and negligence;
- Directly witnessing an injury, including an attempted suicide, to a person who subsequently died before or upon arrival at a hospital emergency department if the person was injured by grievous bodily harm of a nature that shocks the conscience;
- Participating in the physical treatment of an injury, including an attempted suicide, to a person who subsequently died before or upon arrival at a hospital emergency department if the person was injured by grievous bodily harm of a nature that shocks the conscience; or
- Manually transporting a person who was injured, including by attempted suicide, and subsequently died before or upon arrival at a hospital emergency department if the person was injured by grievous bodily harm of a nature that shocks the conscience.
- Such disorder must be demonstrated by clear and convincing medical evidence.
- Benefits for a first responder under this subsection: 1. Do not require a physical injury to the first responder; and 2. Are not subject to: a. Apportionment due to a preexisting posttraumatic stress disorder; b. Any limitation on temporary benefits under s. 440.093; or c. The 1-percent limitation on permanent psychiatric impairment benefits under s. 440.15(3).
- The time for notice of injury or death in cases of compensable posttraumatic stress disorder under this subsection is the same as in s. 440.151(6) and is measured from one of the qualifying events listed in subparagraph (a)(2) or the manifestation of the disorder, whichever is later. A claim under this subsection must be properly noticed within 52 weeks after the qualifying event.”
According to Florida Statute Section 112.1815(1), the term “first responder” means a law enforcement officer, a firefighter, or an emergency medical technician or paramedic employed by state or local government. A volunteer law enforcement officer, firefighter, or EMT is also considered a first responder for purposes of the statute. It is important for our First Responders to be aware of their rights and their avenues to obtain help for these serious mental health conditions that can potentially be life threatening. At Smith, Feddeler, and Smith we are here to help and provide such care and guidance and are willing to fight for the benefits employers may be trying to hide or suppress.