What is the Heart/Lung Bill and How Does It Protect First Responders?

Formally known as Florida Statute 112.18, the Florida legislature passed the Heart/Lung Bill to offer additional legal protection for police, firefighters, and correctional officers who suffer from heart disease, high blood pressure, or tuberculosis. Specifically, the bill enacted the presumption that if a law enforcement officer, firefighter, or corrections officer develops cardiovascular disease or tuberculosis (TB) during their employment, then the disease is a direct consequence of their employment -- provided it was not a pre-existing condition. In other words, if you contracted heart disease, high blood pressure, or tuberculosis after working as a first responder, you are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits.

So, how can the Heart/Lung Bill protect you? What are its limitations? And what steps must you take for your own protection if you do need to file a claim?

Before we answer these important questions, let’s take a look at who is covered under Florida’s Heart/Lung Bill.

112.18 Firefighters and law enforcement or correctional officers; special provisions relative to disability.—

(1)(a) Any condition or impairment of health of any Florida state, municipal, county, port authority, special tax district, or fire control district firefighter or any law enforcement officer, correctional officer, or correctional probation officer as defined in s. 943.10(1), (2), or (3) caused by tuberculosis, heart disease, or 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 firefighter or law enforcement officer must have successfully passed a physical examination upon entering into any such service as a firefighter or law enforcement officer, which examination failed to reveal any evidence of any such condition. Such presumption does not apply to benefits payable under or granted in a policy of life insurance or disability insurance, unless the insurer and insured have negotiated for such additional benefits to be included in the policy contract.

Simply put, with the Heart/Lung Bill’s passage, firefighters, police, and corrections officers retain a rebuttable presumption that they contracted cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, or TB as a direct result of their employment. Consequently, in most cases a first responder’s employer must cover their condition under workers’ compensation. How does that benefit you? Workers’ compensation may cover the cost of your medical care and make you eligible for impairment and wage lost benefits.

Can the Heart/Lung Bill’s Presumption in Favor of the Firefighter, Law Enforcement Officer or Correctional Officer Be Overcome?

Your employer can overcome the presumption with evidence; however, a high standard of proof is required. As a firefighter, law enforcement officer, or correctional officer, if you provide proof of a work-related cause for your hypertension, heart disease, or TB your employer must rebut your presumption with clear and convincing evidence of a non-work-related cause. They cannot simply present an unknown cause; they must argue a specific cause for your high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease or TB that is unrelated to your job; for example, obesity or smoking.

What Are the 4 Requirements for Making a Claim Under the Heart/Lung Bill?

To activate the presumption of the Heart/Lung Bill, you must fulfill 4 requirements:

  1. You must meet the definition of a protected class. That is, you must be a firefighter, p r, or correctional officer as defined in Chapter 112 of the Florida Statutes.
  2. You must be diagnosed with a protected condition: heart disease, hypertension, or TB
  3. You must have passed a pre-employment physical.
  4. You must be totally or partially disabled.

When you meet these four requirements, the Heart/Lung Statute protects you by creating a presumption that your hypertension, heart disease, or tuberculosis are work-related as a matter of law -- regardless of the actual cause of the condition and whether the condition occurred on- or off-duty.

Even so, employers and insurance carriers often wrongfully deny these claims. That’s why hiring the right workers comp lawyer is vital for your success. As workers’ compensation lawyers, we know that for first responders, a work injury involves so much more than a simple workers’ compensation claim: there are employment, pension, and social security issues that overlap and affect each other. With our years of experience and commitment to serving those who serve our communities, we work to ensure that you receive the maximum benefits to which you are entitled.

Are you seeking representation from a workman’s comp law firm? Not sure if you meet the prerequisites of the Heart/Lung Bill?

Contact us today at Bichler & Longo for a free evaluation of your case.