Definition of heart disease as contemplated by Presumption Statute

This letter will serve to update you on a recent decision published by the First District Court of Appeal (First DCA) in City of Venice and PGCS v. Michael van Dyke. In this decision, the First DCA addressed the definition of "heart disease" as contemplated by the presumption statute.

In this case, the E/C appealed the Judge of Compensation Claim's Order finding Claimant's thoracic aortic disease compensable under the presumption. Specifically, the E/C argued that this condition was not "heart disease." In support of this argument, the E/C asserted that the exact structure affected by the condition, the ascending aorta, is not "in the heart."

The First DCA rejected this argument, pointing out that the definition of "heart disease," published by Dorland's Illustrated Medical Dictionary, includes abnormalities of "the heart, its structures, or the coronary arteries." In the instant case, the Claimant underwent re-implantation of the aortic valve, which the medical dictionary defines as one of the four major valves of the heart. Based on these medical definitions, along with the fact that the Florida Uniform Permanent Impairment Rating Schedule provides a rating for "valvular heart disease," the First DCA concluded that competent substantial evidence supported the JCC's finding that Claimant's thoracic aortic disease was "heart disease" as contemplated by the presumption.

The E/C further argued that the JCC erred by denying "without prejudice" the compensability of Claimant's hypertension, arguing that any denial should have been "with prejudice." The First DCA noted that the Claimant did not file a claim for compensability of hypertension, and "specifically disavowed" any claim in its closing arguments before the JCC. Thus, the Court struck any findings and conclusions regarding the compensability of Claimant's hypertension.

The Court ultimately affirmed the JCC's Order (as modified with respect to the hypertension).

While the First DCA's conclusion as to the thoracic aortic disease is not surprising, its reasoning is quite instructive on how the Court will handle medical questions. In this case, the Court relied just as much on dictionary definitions of heart disease as it did on the doctors' testimony classifying the Claimant's condition. This, as the Court viewed the issue (i.e., whether Claimant's disorder constituted heart disease) as one of statutory construction.

Please note that this decision will not become final until the time for re-hearing has lapsed, and a mandate is issued. Feel free to contact our office if you have any questions or would like to discuss this decision any further.