Despite the lobbying efforts of Pinellas Park and several other area municipalities, Florida lawmakers will most likely approve a bill extending workers’ compensation job injury benefits to public employees with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
So far, House Bill 227 has passed three committees — one in the House and two in the Senate — without a single “no” vote. At these hearings, often emotional testimony has evidently struck a chord with lawmakers. For example, during a recent hearing, Tampa resident Megan Vila said she would rather not testify, “because that would mean my brother, Stephen Scott LaDue, would still be alive today.” Mr. LaDue, a 30-year Tampa Fire Rescue veteran, committed suicide while suffering from PTSD. During the subsequent vote, Rep. Katie Edwards-Walpole (D-Broward County) voted for the measure and also attacked its critics. “I find it distasteful, I find it lacking in humanity, and I find it just downright shameful to say that this bill isn’t necessary,” she said.
Not everyone feels the same. Cost-conscious municipalities have been steady in their opposition to House Bill 227. In an email, Pinellas Park officials said that mental health recovery “should focus on treatment and education, and not revolve around additional workers’ compensation benefits, which are already significantly more robust for first responders.” Boynton Beach and Cape Coral civic leaders have expressed similar thoughts.
Does Florida Workers’ Compensation Pay for PTSD?
The workers’ compensation law does not specifically mention PTSD, but it does require that the victim sustain a physical injury. Emerging science indicates that PTSD, like any other brain injury, is indeed a physical injury, so House Bill 227 may essentially only be an evidentiary shortcut that’s available in limited situations.
Sporadic reports of PTSD first emerged in the American Civil War. Doctors often diagnosed it as either nostalgia (extreme homesickness) or camp disease (a lethargy caused by “moral turpitude” or “feeble will”). In either case, doctors believed the proper cure was usually a vigorous campaign. This treatment probably just made the condition worse.
PTSD is much more commonly associated with World War I. A hundred years later, it is very difficult for us to appreciate the horrors that these individuals endured. Doctors believed that soldiers diagnosed with “shell shock” simply had a processing disorder and needed some time away from combat to collect themselves. This myth persisted even though a majority of PTSD soldiers in the Great War never returned to the trenches and struggled with permanent brain injuries which made everyday living almost impossible.
All these years later, doctors are just beginning to understand the true nature of PTSD. This condition upsets the delicate balance in the brain between logical thought and emotional reaction.
Two parts of the brain — the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex — are much like a horse and rider. The amygdala controls visceral reactions and the prefrontal cortex reigns in the amygdala. Exposure to combat stress-like situations destroys this balance, which explains why people living with PTSD endure symptoms like:
- Heightened awareness, and
Because of this new research, the Canadian Armed Forces replaced the PTSD designation with OSI (Operational Stress Injury). Veterans with this physical injury are eligible for the Sacrifice Medal, which is the equivalent of a Purple Heart.
Doctors know that extreme stress causes this brain injury, but they do not know whether that stress must be a one-time event, like witnessing a mass shooting, or the stress can occur over time.
Why Are Florida Cities Fighting the Workers’ Compensation Extension?
If asked this question on the record, city leaders would probably say that increasing workers’ compensation benefits would mean spending cuts or tax increases elsewhere and they have a duty to all their citizens to keep services widely available and taxes low. But that’s probably not the real reason.
Even as the economy recovered in 2015, workers’ compensation payments hit their lowest level since 1980. Like workers’ compensation insurance companies, many Tampa-area cities simply do not want to pay the extra money for an employee job injury. They would rather pad their own profits or payrolls.
But regardless of the reason, there is no doubt that insurance companies are stingier with benefits today than at any other time in recent history. So, while benefits are available for job injury victims, it takes an extremely aggressive and experienced attorney to obtain them.
Benefits Available to Injured Tampa Workers
In a pair of recent decisions, the Florida Supreme Court substantially expanded the benefits available to injured workers. These job injury benefits include:
- Lost Wages: Victims who are temporarily disabled usually receive two-thirds of their average weekly wage for up to 260 weeks (five years); the prior cutoff was 104 weeks. Victims who are permanently disabled usually receive a lump-sum payout.
- Medical Bills: Workers’ compensation pays all reasonably necessary medical expenses, including emergency care, follow-up treatment, physical therapy, and any other associated costs.
Injured victims need not prove that employer negligence caused their injuries to obtain these benefits. Instead, victims must only establish a direct connection between their injuries and their job duties. If the victim had a pre-existing condition or a non-work cause contributed to the illness or injury, full workers’ compensation benefits are still available, in most cases.
What Other Job Injury Benefits Are Available in Tampa?
In some cases, workers’ compensation is not the exclusive remedy for Florida job injuries. If the employer was extremely reckless (e.g., sending a first responder into a situation that was likely to cause injury), additional benefits may be available. This added money includes damages for pain and suffering, loss of consortium (companionship), emotional distress, loss of enjoyment in life, and other noneconomic damages.
Reach Out to Experienced Workers’ Compensation Attorneys in Tampa, Florida
Injured workers are often entitled to significant compensation. For a free consultation with an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer in Tampa, contact Burnetti, P.A. We have six office locations in the area.