TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) — A state appeals court will hear arguments this week in a dispute about workers' compensation insurance benefits for a police officer who suffered post-traumatic stress disorder after the February 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Broward County.
A panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal will consider whether a 2018 law that expanded certain workers' compensation benefits for first responders should apply to Matthew Casey, who was a Hallandale Beach police officer when he responded to the Parkland school.
The dispute involves whether the claim for benefits should be pegged to the Feb. 14, 2018, shooting date or to a November 2018 date when Casey was placed on administrative leave because of PTSD. The timing is important because the law that expanded benefits took effect Oct. 1, 2018.
Judge of Compensation Claims Daniel Lewis last year sided with Casey and ruled that he "suffered a new accident when the post-traumatic stress disorder became disabling as of November 19, 2018." Under the 2018 law, that decision entitled Casey to receive what are known as "indemnity" benefits for lost income.
"Since the claimant herein (Casey) was unable to perform a substantial and significant part of his job duties; namely, road patrol, while on administrative leave, I find the claimant has met the definition of disability," Lewis wrote. "I find the claimant's correct date of accident in this post-traumatic stress disorder case to be November 19, 2018."
But Hallandale Beach and Preferred Governmental Claims Services, a workers' compensation claims firm, appealed Lewis' ruling and said the Feb. 14, 2018, date should apply. That would make Casey ineligible for the indemnity benefits — though he would be eligible for benefits covering his medical care.
In a November brief filed at the appeals court, the city and the claims firm argued that the "unequivocal evidence clearly establishes that the last qualifying event to which the claimant was exposed occurred on February 14, 2018, when he was responding and discharging his law enforcement duties" at the school.
Court documents said Casey responded to the school and, in the process of helping clear and secure the building, saw the bodies of dead students and an adult. In all 17 people were killed in the shooting.
Casey sent an email to a supervisor in October 2018 seeking assistance with PTSD, which led to him being placed on administrative leave and receiving treatment. He ultimately left the Hallandale Police Department in 2020 after he was unable to perform road-patrol duties, according to Lewis' ruling.
"Following his involvement as a police officer in the horrific events of February 14, 2018, the claimant began experiencing episodes of anger, bad dreams or nightmares and anxiety," the judge wrote. "In October 2018, while attending an educational training seminar provided by the employer … relating to mental health awareness and post-traumatic stress disorder, the claimant realized that some of his symptoms might be due to a post-traumatic stress disorder condition."
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 the lost-income benefits without also having physical injuries.
The 2018 law, however, allowed first responders to receive lost-income benefits without physical injuries if post-traumatic stress disorder was linked to certain circumstances. Those circumstances included such things as seeing a dead minor or witnessing the death of a minor.
The appeals court will hear arguments Thursday in Casey's case. Court briefs do not detail the amount of money involved in the dispute.
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