Overnight Stay In Hospital Qualifies For Heart Presumption

Like many states, Florida's workers' compensation statutes have a “heart presumption” for public safety officers, including law enforcement officers and firefighters. If a condition qualifies for the “heart presumption,” the condition is presumed to be caused by the job. While an employer can rebut the presumption of causation, it is fairly difficult to do so, and the “heart presumption” usually results in a finding that a firefighter's or law enforcement officer's heart condition is job-related.

Timothy Carney is a deputy sheriff with the Sarasota County, Florida Sheriff's Office. In 2007, Carney saw a cardiologist because of problems with his heart rate and complaints of fatigue and shortness of breath. Kearney was given a monitor to wear. When he returned the monitor as instructed, Carney was told he would be called with the results in approximately one week.

Two days later, however, while Carney was on duty, the cardiologist's office called and instructed him to come to the office as soon as possible. Shortly after arriving at the doctor's office, Carney was admitted to the hospital because of an irregular heart rate, and was administered medication in a successful attempt to regulate his heartbeat. Carney was released from the hospital the next day, the first day of the Thanksgiving weekend. He returned to work without restrictions the following Monday, and lost no wages on account of the portion of the day he missed from work.

Carney filed a workers' compensation claim for his overnight stay at the hospital. When the County denied the claim, Carney challenged the denial in the Florida Court of Appeals. The County argued that the mere fact that Carney required hospitalization to control his heartbeat did not mean that he was “incapacitated” as required by the workers' compensation system. In the County's view, absent any restriction on Carney's work duties and responsibilities, Carney was not eligible for the “heart presumption.”

The Court found that the “heart presumption” applied. While the Court acknowledged that diagnostic procedures alone are insufficient to treat the heart presumption, the Court noted that “Carney was not hospitalized merely for diagnostic purposes. Rather, he was summoned from work by his treating cardiologist and admitted to the hospital because his heart was beating at a hazardous rate and required treatment to bring his heartbeat to a safe level. This was not testing or treatment standing alone. That he was able to return to work without restrictions a few days after being released from the hospital does not defeat Carney's contention that he satisfied the disability requirement of the workers' compensation statute. Disability may be temporary and partial.”

Carney v. Sarasota County Sheriff's Office, 2009 WL 4800293 (Fla. App. 1 Dist. 2009).

This article appears in the March 2010 issue