47 Fla. L. Weekly D662f
PHILLIP LAKIN, Appellant, v. HERNANDO COUNTY SHERIFF’S OFFICE/FLORIDA SHERIFFS RISK MANAGEMENT FUND, Appellees. 1st District. Case No. 1D21-689. March 16, 2022. On appeal from an order of the Office of the Judges of Compensation Claims. Mark A. Massey, Judge. Date of Accident: December 9, 2019. Counsel: Kimberly A. Hill from Anidjar & Levine WC, PLLC, Fort Lauderdale, for Appellant. Tracey J. Hyde from McConnaughhay, Coonrod, Pope, Weaver & Stern, P.A., Panama City, and R. Stephen Coonrod from McConnaughhay, Coonrod, Pope, Weaver & Stern, P.A., Tallahassee, for Appellees.
(OSTERHAUS, J.) In this workers’ compensation case, Claimant Phillip Lakin appeals an order denying compensability after the Judge of Compensation Claims credited an expert medical advisor’s opinion that Lakin’s pre-employment physical revealed evidence of a hypertensive condition. We affirm because competent substantial evidence supports the JCC’s decision.I.
Claimant is a law enforcement officer in Hernando County. Before starting work with the sheriff’s office in 2002, he was given a pre-employment physical which showed an elevated blood pressure of 154/93. No one followed up on the reading and Claimant was cleared to begin work. Years passed before Claimant was diagnosed with essential hypertension in December 2016. Other record evidence showed Claimant to have elevated blood pressure measurements taken in 2011, 2015, and several in 2016. A few years later, in December 2019, Claimant had a “hypertensive incident” at work during which his blood pressure was significantly elevated. He was hospitalized and missed work for a day or two before returning to full duty.
In April 2020, Claimant filed various petitions for benefits arising from the December 2019 accident. The Employer/Carrier (E/C) disputed compensability believing that his condition did not arise from work. The E/C argued that the occupational presumption of compensability for law enforcement officers in § 112.18(1)(a), Florida Statutes, did not apply to Claimant because of his high blood pressure history from the pre-employment physical.* When IME physicians for the parties disagreed about whether Claimant’s pre-employment physical revealed evidence of hypertension, the JCC appointed an expert medical advisor (EMA). The EMA opined that the pre-employment physical did reveal evidence of hypertension, which the JCC accepted. In doing so, the JCC overruled a Daubert-based objection to the medical testimony and motion in limine filed by the Claimant challenging the EMA’s facts, data, and opinions as not being the product of reliable principles and methods. Ultimately, the JCC determined that the compensability presumption from § 112.18 did not apply. Finding no evidence beyond the statutory presumption to support a finding of occupational causation, the JCC concluded that Claimant was not eligible for benefits for his hypertension condition. Claimant appealed.II.
Claimant’s main argument on appeal is that the JCC could not lawfully base its decision to negate the § 112.18 presumption upon the EMA’s opinion that the pre-employment physical showed evidence of hypertension. We review this issue de novo because the Claimant is making a legal argument based on the text of the statute and caselaw that elevated-blood-pressure evidence from a pre-employment physical cannot provide an adequate factual foundation to prevent eligibility for the § 112.18 presumption.
Our analysis of this issue begins with the statute, § 112.18. The statute makes hypertension suffered by a law enforcement officer compensable as a matter of law if the officer has “successfully passed a physical examination upon entering into any such service as a . . . law enforcement officer . . . which examination failed to reveal any evidence of any such condition.” § 112.18(1), Fla. Stat.; see also § 943.13(6), Fla. Stat. (“In order to be eligible for the presumption set forth in s. 112.18 while employed with an employing agency, a law enforcement officer . . . must have successfully passed the physical examination required by this subsection upon entering into service as a law enforcement officer . . . with the employing agency, which examination must have failed to reveal any evidence of . . . hypertension.”).
In this case, the JCC concluded that evidence from Claimant’s pre-employment physical negated the statutory presumption based on the EMA’s opinion that this evidence revealed evidence of hypertension. The EMA’s testimony explained how he arrived at this conclusion, citing studies supporting the linkage between high blood pressure and hypertension. In short, “someone who has elevated blood pressure has evidence of hypertension.” On cross examination, the EMA acknowledged situations where an elevated blood pressure might not indicate hypertension, such as with a misfitting blood pressure machine cuff, “white coat syndrome,” or a patient suffering with pain. But the EMA found no such factors undercutting the blood pressure evidence from Claimant’s pre-employment physical. This evidence from the EMA supplied sufficient grounds for the JCC’s conclusion that Claimant’s pre-employment physical examination revealed evidence of hypertension.
In affirming the JCC’s order, we reject Claimant’s view that only a “diagnosis” of hypertension at the time of the pre-employment physical examination can be credited by a JCC to negate the compensability presumption under § 112.18. Rather, the statutes establish “any evidence” of hypertension as the applicable standard. Id.; § 943.13(6), Fla. Stat. See also Holcombe v. City of Naples/Johns E. Co., Inc., 328 So. 3d 311, 315 (Fla. 1st DCA 2021) (“Neither section 112.18(1) nor section 943.13(6) incorporate any qualifying or restricting language for the [term] . . . hypertension; instead, the statutes require any evidence of . . . hypertension without qualification.”). Nothing requires a diagnosis of hypertension at the time of the pre-employment exam in order to meet the statutory standard of “any evidence of . . . hypertension.” Id.; § 943.13(6), Fla. Stat.
This does not mean, however, that JCCs must credit faulty or misleading blood-pressure evidence from a claimant’s pre-employment exam. In City of Tavares v. Harper, 230 So. 3d 918, 921 (Fla. 1st DCA 2017), for example, we affirmed the JCC’s determination that the elevated-blood-pressure evidence from a pre-employment physical examination was not indicative of hypertension but of “white coat syndrome.” The JCC’s decision stemmed from medical opinions arising from that claimant’s medical history and the “isolated” measurement taken at his pre-employment physical. Id. at 920. Harper did not say that elevated blood-pressure readings could never be taken as evidence of hypertension. In fact, the claimant’s IME in Harper acknowledged that “one high blood pressure reading could be evidence of hypertension.” Id. at 920.
Claimant likens his case to Harper but the facts in his case are different. Here, with a different claimant, a different set of facts, and a different medical opinion from the EMA, the JCC concluded that Claimant’s elevated-blood-pressure reading was evidence of hypertension. As in Harper, we affirm the JCC’s decision because it is supported by the evidence. Id. at 919 (concluding “that competent substantial evidence support[ed] the JCC’s finding”).
Finally, the JCC did not err by overruling the Claimant’s § 90.702, Daubert objection to the EMA’s testimony on grounds of it being based upon speculative or incorrect assumptions. The elevated blood pressure evidence from Claimant’s pre-employment exam was undisputed and formed the basis of the EMA’s finding evidence of hypertension. Claimant’s Daubert argument here is intertwined with his conviction that only a hypertension diagnosis at the pre-employment examination (instead of blood-pressure evidence alone) can supply “any evidence” of hypertension under the Heart-Lung Bill. §§ 112.18(1), 943.13(6), Fla. Stat. Because Claimant’s view of what the statutes require is incorrect, the EMA needn’t have supported his medical opinion with more evidence of hypertension beyond the measurement taken at Claimant’s pre-employment physical.
Because competent, substantial evidence supports the JCC’s determination, we affirm the conclusion that the E/C successfully rebutted § 112.18’s presumption.
AFFIRMED. (KELSEY and JAY, JJ., concur.)
*Section 112.18, Florida Statutes, sometimes called the “Heart-Lung Bill” provides in part:
Any condition or impairment of health of . . . any law enforcement officer . . . caused by . . . hypertension resulting in total or partial disability or death shall be presumed to have been accidental and to have been suffered in the line of duty unless the contrary be shown by competent evidence. However, any such . . . law enforcement officer must have successfully passed a physical examination upon entering into any such service as a . . . law enforcement officer, which examination failed to reveal any evidence of any such condition.
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