POLK COUNTY, Fla. – An appeals court Wednesday backed a former Polk County emergency medical technician and paramedic in a dispute about workers’ compensation insurance benefits related to post-traumatic stress disorder.
A three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal overturned a ruling by a judge of compensation claims that denied benefits for Mandy Lynn Wyatt, who began working for the county’s fire-rescue department in 2015.
She began experiencing nightmares and flashbacks in 2016 after responding to a domestic-violence call in which a woman was badly beaten by a boyfriend and ultimately died, according to Wednesday’s ruling. Later incidents included responding to calls involving the deaths of children.
Wyatt stopped working for the fire rescue department on Nov. 27, 2018 and filed a petition for workers’ compensation benefits in 2019.
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A key issue in the case centered on a 2018 state law that expanded workers’ compensation benefits for first responders. Before the 2018 law, first responders were able to receive medical-care benefits for post-traumatic stress disorder without accompanying physical injuries.
But they could not receive lost income, or “indemnity,” benefits without also having physical injuries. The law, which took effect on Oct. 1, 2018, changed that in certain circumstances.
In denying Wyatt’s claim, the judge of compensation claims said her last “exposure” to an event that would qualify her for indemnity benefits was in June 2018, before the law took effect, according to Wednesday’s ruling.
But the appeals court rejected that conclusion and said Nov. 27, 2018, should be the applicable date for Wyatt. Part of the law “allows for such PTSD experienced by a first responder to be treated as an occupational disease, meaning that the first responder is entitled to indemnity for that wage loss if it flows from the PTSD.
For Wyatt, that loss did not occur until her ongoing PTSD caused her to walk away from her job after November 27, 2018,” said the ruling, written by Judge Adam Tanenbaum and joined by Judges Joseph Lewis and M. Kemmerly Thomas.