Pembroke Pines Challenges Florida Presumption Laws

Fifteen Pembroke Pines, Florida firefighters and police officers have filed suit over denied workers compensation benefits, alleging that the city’s benefit’s administrator has engaged in “across the board denial… without reasonable justification”.

The suit alleges that Gallagher Bassett Services Inc., who processes workers comp claims for Pembroke Pines, routinely denied claims that according to state law should be covered, including heart disease and hypertension. The Florida law reads as follows:

112.18 Firefighters and law enforcement or correctional officers; special provisions relative to disability.–

(1) Any condition or impairment of health of any Florida state, municipal, county, port authority, special tax district, or fire control district firefighter or any law enforcement officer or correctional officer as defined in s. 943.10(1), (2), or (3) caused by tuberculosis, heart disease, or hypertension resulting in total or partial disability or death shall be presumed to have been accidental and to have been suffered in the line of duty unless the contrary be shown by competent evidence.

As written, the law allows the city to consider evidence to disprove that the condition is job related, but in the absence of such evidence, the law establishes the claim as presumptively covered.

Theodore Leopold, the attorney for the firefighters and police officers, is quoted as saying "The claims administrator routinely denied these people their just benefits without doing the full investigation despite medical records. The municipality is refusing to provide the benefits that they justly deserve."

The news comments and blogs out of Florida appear to be heavily supporting the city’s position, and perhaps that is what is motivating the local officials to push the issue. A sampling of the comments:

"COPS AND FIREMEN ARE BLOOD SUCKERS – -SUCK ALL THE TAXPAYERS MONEY AND BLOOD"

"I am so damn tired of these darn prima dons/donnas. If they are too sensitive to handle the pressure of the jobs they signed up for, QUIT. Tthey do face certain hazards as they perform their jobs but they knew that going in so they should quit their complaining."

"FIREMAN NEED MORE MONEY!!!! FIREMAN NEED MORE MONEY!!!! FIREMAN NEED MORE MONEY!!!!"

I suppose that answers the question about why city officials might blatantly ignore what seems to be an unambiguous law. Unfortunately, while the popularity of the elected officials might get a boost by taking such a seemingly pro-taxpayer position – in the end the local taxpayers will have to pay to comply with the law, plus be saddled with the costs of litigation.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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