TALLAHASSEE – The First District Court of Appeal has reversed an order from the Judge of Compensation Claims (JCC) in a suit over allegations of toxic exposure.
The city of Titusville and Johns Eastern Co. Inc. argued that the JCC erred when it excused claimant Robert Taylor from establishing "by clear and convincing evidence" that his exposure to cryptococcus gattii was work-related.
"Because we find claimant failed to satisfy his burden of proof regarding occupational causation, the order on appeal is reversed," Judge M. Kemmerly Thomas wrote in the Nov. 27 opinion.
The opinion states that Taylor was employed by the city of Titusville up until Aug. 3, 2015, as an Operator II and was regularly expected to operate heavy equipment as well as complete manual tasks that included breaking up and replacing sidewalks. The claimant also spent time working with the solid waste and stormwater departments.
Thomas alleges that he was working in a wooded environment and that he began to suffer from headaches during this period of time around August 2015. He was admitted to the hospital on Aug. 3, 2015, and diagnosed with fungal meningitis.
Taylor filed a petition for benefits alleging that his work of hauling dirt while in his position caused his health condition and sought compensation. His claim was denied, and the JCC later concluded he met his burden of proof under section 440.02(1).
"This court has and continues to recognize that workers’ compensation is a statutory matter and the Legislature has broad discretion in crafting the parameters of benefits due," Kemmerly Thomas wrote. "In reaching this decision, we readily acknowledge the Herculean task created by the heightened burden of proof for toxic exposure claims. However, in deference to the Legislature we will not craft, in derogation of the plain text of sections 440.02(1) and 440.09(1), a lesser burden of proof. The order on appeal is reversed."