An appeals court Wednesday upheld a decision awarding workers’ compensation benefits to a Seminole County firefighter who had a heart attack and needed a heart transplant after being diagnosed with COVID-19.
The ruling by a three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal involved a state law that applies to firefighters, law-enforcement officers and correctional officers and says certain conditions such as heart disease are presumed “to have been suffered in the line of duty unless the contrary be shown by competent evidence.”
Seminole County firefighter Chad Braden, who had a history of cardiac problems, tested positive for COVID-19 on Dec. 27, 2020, according to the ruling. He suffered a heart attack on Jan. 24, 2021, and received a heart transplant in March 2021.
Braden filed for workers’ compensation benefits, but Seminole County and an insurance-adjusting firm denied the claim, arguing that the heart attack was caused by COVID-19 contracted outside of work.
A judge of compensation claims accepted the argument that COVID-19 caused the heart attack and transplant but said, “Seminole County failed to rebut the presumption of work causation by proving that Braden contracted the virus outside of work,” according to Wednesday’s ruling written by appeals court Judge M. Kemmerly Thomas.
The appeals court said it found “competent evidence supports the JCC’s (judge of compensation claims’) determination that Seminole County failed to rebut the statutory presumption.”
Judge Lori Rowe agreed with the result, though she did not fully sign on to Thomas’ full opinion. Chief Judge Timothy Osterhaus wrote a concurring opinion.
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