Florida First District Court Of Appeal Decision

Read about the recent success of Smith, Feddeler & Smith, P.A., in a workers’ compensation case in the Florida First District Court of Appeal.

The Background

While working as an EMT and paramedic for Polk County Fire Rescue, Mandy Lynn Wyatt was exposed to severely traumatic events. The most troubling calls for her involved women and young children. Responding to these emergency calls progressively caused to develop and worsened her mental health during her employment from August 2015 to November 2018.

In 2016, Wyatt began experiencing nightmares and flashbacks related to what she witnessed on the job. She was able to pursue an evaluation and was subsequently diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Wyatt sought support from a critical incidence stress management team at work and began seeing a therapist in March 2017.

However, Wyatt’s symptoms worsened. She became frequently depressed and anxious, and had nightmares consistently. Her PTSD began interfering with her job, causing her to leave work early to manage her symptoms. In November 2018, Wyatt took a leave of absence from her EMT position – which was unpaid – in hopes that the time off would improve her condition. It did not, and she never returned to work as a first responder.

The Issue

In April 2019, Wyatt filed a petition for workers’ compensation benefits. She sought compensation for lost wages due to temporary total disability and temporary partial disability, as well as medical treatment for the PTSD she developed during her employment. However, the Office of Judges of Compensation Claims (JCC) wrongfully denied her claim.

Usually, workers can’t receive medical benefits based on a mental or nervous injury like PTSD alone; this condition must result from a physical injury sustained on the job to be covered by workers’ compensation. However, the law sets out unique provisions for first responders like Wyatt. Since 2007, first responders have been able to get medical coverage for mental or nervous injuries sustained from work, even without physical injuries.

In 2018, further legal provisions were added specifically for first responders with PTSD. In addition, these individuals would also be entitled to compensation for lost wages resulting from their condition.

The JCC refused to pay for Wyatt’s lost wages, mistakenly arguing that she became disabled the last time she was exposed to something traumatic at work, which happened before the amendment to the law took effect. However, the day she became disabled was actually later that year when she left work due to her PTSD, which was after it took effect.

The JCC also unfairly denied her medical coverage, erroneously assuming she was seeking it under the addition to the law. She was legally entitled to coverage the whole time.

The Outcome

Attorney Nicolette E. Tsambis of Smith, Feddeler & Smith, P.A., appealed the JCC’s prior decision, citing the above reasons. The appeal was granted, and the JCC’s order denying benefits was reversed, requiring the employer/carrier to compensate Wyatt for medical treatment and lost wages resulting from her PTSD.

Thanks to the attorney’s apt legal arguments and dedication to her client, Wyatt got the outcome she deserved and the support she needed for her recovery.

Read about other recent case results of Smith, Feddeler & Smith, P.A..