First District Court of Appeal Issues Blockbuster Decision Holding That A Single Report of Elevated Blood Pressure At A Pre-Employment Physical Isn’t Evidence of Hypertension
First responders can establish the compensability of their hypertension or cardiological disease under the statutory presumption in the Florida Heart and Lung Statute 112.18(a)(2015). However, to do so, the law enforcement officer must “have successfully passed the physical examination” which failed to reveal “any evidence of any such condition”.
A Single Report of Elevated Blood Pressure Isn’t Evidence of Hypertension
In the blockbuster case of City of Tavares v. Harper, entered by the First District Court of Appeals on October 24, 2017, the First DCA found that a single report of elevated blood pressure at a pre-employment physical does not constitute evidence of hypertension.
One of the common tricks of employer/carrier’s use to deny a claim is to get the employee’s medical records prior to employment and the pre-employment physical. The employer/carrier will look for evidence of hypertension or cardiological disease or claim that an abnormal finding during the physical examination is sufficient to rebut the presumption that the law enforcement officer had successfully passed the examination.
Officer Harper experienced two instances of severely elevated blood pressure in 2016 and was taken out of work on a temporary basis. He was diagnosed with hypertension which was controlled with medication. He filed a worker’s compensation claim asking that his hypertension is determined compensable and the responsibility of the employer/carrier.
In 2007, he had undergone a pre-employment physical examination that showed a blood pressure reading of 140/60 which, according to the refuted medical opinions, is considered high. However, hypertension was never noted and the medical records from 2001-2015 did not show any other high blood pressure readings or a diagnosis of hypertension.
What The Doctor’s Said About That one Elevated Blood Pressure Reading
Of course, there were depositions of the doctors taken on this issue! One doctor testified that one isolated elevated blood pressure reading could be caused by hypertension but noted the one elevated blood pressure reading could be related to “white coat” syndrome. That’s a transient increase in blood pressure caused by the stress of undergoing a blood pressure reading. It’s considered a normal phenomenon.
For that reason, many doctors will conduct multiple blood pressure readings back to back and. If there is an elevation, the doctor will request two to three readings within a period of time to confirm a diagnosis of high blood pressure.
An isolated measurement in hypertensive range didn’t actually mean that Officer Harper was hypertensive.
What Did The Court Say?
The First DCA held that Officer Harper’s isolated elevated reading was more likely an indication of “white coat” syndrome than high blood pressure hypertension. There was a dissenting opinion that dismissed the majority opinion’s reasoning that the elevated reading was a product of the “white coat” syndrome. The dissent points out that it didn’t matter what the cause was because there was a reading of high blood pressure which is evidence of hypertension. The dissent noted that the Statute didn’t require a certain level of evidence to disallow the statutory presumption. The Statute simply said that any evidence of elevated blood pressure was sufficient to exclude the application of the presumption.
What Does This Decision Hold For The Future?
I still think the carriers will continue to look at the pre-existing medical records, pre-employment records, and any other subsequent medical records to see if there were elevated blood pressure readings and whether the high blood pressure developed into hypertension.
What You Should Do If You Are A First Responder Who Has High Blood Pressure
Call First Responder Worker’s Compensation attorney Nancy Cavey who can explain the first responder presumption and what you need to prove to get the money and medical worker’s compensation benefits you deserve. Call today at 727-894-3188 for your complimentary consultation.