Employer Must Overcome Heart-Lung Presumption By Specific Evidence

Like many states, Florida’s workers’ compensation system has what is generally known as a “heart-lung presumption,” where a public safety employee’s heart or lung condition is presumed to be caused by the job. Robert Punsky, a deputy sheriff for the Clay County, Florida Sheriff’s Department, had a heart attack while sleeping. When the County denied his workers’ compensation claim, Punsky appealed the denial to the Florida Court of Appeals.

The Court upheld Punsky’s claim for benefits. The Court described the heart-lung presumption as applying to public safety officers “who have heart attacks with no apparent non-occupational cause,” and are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits unless the employer overcomes the presumption.

The County cited medical evidence that Punsky “would have had a heart attack no matter what job he was employed in.” However, the Court found that an employer wanting to overcome the presumption was required to produce “evidence of a specific non-occupational cause of the heart disease.” The Court described the County’s evidence as showing “only that the doctors believed the heart attack, and, by inference, the heart disease which caused it, were not caused by the job, not that there was another specific cause identified. Such testimony does not rebut the presumption.”

Punsky v. Clay County Sheriff’s Office, 2008 WL 2787559 (Fla.App. 2008).

This article appears in the October 2008 issue