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NOTICE TO FLORIDA FIRST RESPONDERS WITH POTENTIAL POST-TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER

March 09, 2021

NOTICE TO FLORIDA FIRST RESPONDERS WITH POTENTIAL POST-TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER  

Effective 10/1/18, the Florida legislature enacted special provisions for accidental injuries suffered by first responders, including paramedics and emergency medical technicians. As relevant here, the statute confirms that Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (hereinafter “PTSD") for first responders is a compensable occupational disease within the meaning of the Florida Workers’ Compensation Law. Unlike other occupational trauma resulting in mental health condition(s), this particular statute permits a first responder to claim lost wage benefits for the PTSD without evidence of an accompanying physical injury. However, in order to obtain the benefits available under this particular statute, certain, very important elements must be met; otherwise, the claim for PTSD can be denied by the employer.

First and foremost, the first responder must be examined and subsequently diagnosed with PTSD by a licensed psychiatrist due to one or more of the following events:

a. Seeing for oneself a deceased minor;

b. Directly witnessing the death of a minor;

c. Directly witnessing an injury to a minor who subsequently died before or upon arrival at a hospital emergency department;

d. Participating in the physical treatment of an injured minor who subsequently died before or upon arrival at a hospital emergency department;

e. Manually transporting an injured minor who subsequently died before or upon arrival at a hospital emergency department;

f. Seeing for oneself a decedent whose death involved grievous bodily harm of a nature that shocks the conscience;

g. Directly witnessing a death, including suicide, that involved grievous bodily harm of a nature that shocks the conscience;

h. 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;

i. 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;

j. 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

k. 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.

What is most significant, however, is that even before a first responder is having any manifestation of any symptoms associated with one or more of the above qualifying events, the first responder is required per statute to provide notice to the employer of the event within 52 weeks of the qualifying event, which at this point is only considered one of the above 11 events. In other words, even if the first responder does not manifest any PTSD symptoms within 52 weeks of the event, the first responder is still required to provide the employer notice of the event within 52 weeks of the event. While many first responders do not get diagnosed with PTSD until well more than 52 weeks after an event, the current case law and statute still impose this notice requirement.

The important takeaway from this statute is to make certain that if a first responder is involved in one or more of the above qualifying events, the first responder at least provides written notification of the event to their employer within 52 weeks of the event to at least preserve a potential future claim; otherwise, if the manifestation of PTSD does not appear until more than 52 weeks after the event, the first responder may end up in a situation where the claim is otherwise disallowed, even if the first responder has legitimately developed PTSD as a result of one or more of the above qualifying events.

Once notification of the event has been provided, the first responder would not thereafter be required to further take action with respect to the claim until there was a manifestation of the disorder. At that point, the first responder would then need to provide notice to the employer of the PTSD within 90 days of the qualifying event or the manifestation of the disorder, whichever is later. However, if the first responder did not first properly notice the qualifying event with the employer within 52 weeks after the qualifying event, the first responder would not then qualify for protection under the PTSD statute.

As a practical tip, the first responder should keep a copy of the notice provided to their employer in the event proof of such notice is ever questioned.

The Law Firm of Alex Dell, PLLC represents injured and disabled individuals with their Florida and New York State Workers’ Compensation, Disability Retirement, Social Security Disability, and Veterans Affairs claims. For a free consultation, please contact our Florida office today at (941) 213-5085.