Harper v. SEBRING INTERN. RACEWAY, INC.

Decision Date10 November 2004
Docket NumberNo. 1D04-0191.,1D04-0191.
Citation886 So.2d 288
PartiesGeorge W. HARPER, Appellant, v. SEBRING INTERNATIONAL RACEWAY, INC., et al., Appellees.
CourtFlorida District Court of Appeals

Bradley Guy Smith, of Smith, Feddeler, Smith & Miles, P.A., Lakeland; Susan W. Fox, of Fox & Loquasto, P.A., Tampa; Wendy S. Loquasto, of Fox & Loquasto, P.A., Tallahassee, for Appellant.

Pat T. DiCesare, II, and Harold E. Barker, of DiCesare, Davidson & Barker, P.A., Lakeland, for Appellees.

LEWIS, J.

Claimant, George W. Harper, appeals a final order of the Judge of Compensation Claims ("JCC") in which the JCC found that claimant's heart attack was not compensable because claimant was not involved in any physical stress or exertion prior to suffering the heart attack that was non-routine to his job as a fire protection team member. On appeal, claimant essentially contends that the JCC's finding is not supported by competent, substantial evidence. We agree and, therefore, reverse the order and remand for further proceedings.

Claimant, who was sixty years of age at the time of the final hearing, testified that he had worked as a fire protection team member for the employer, Sebring International Raceway, since 1997 and had worked "in and around races" since 1969. Claimant described his position with the employer as consisting of fire protection for the raceway's customers, clean-up, maintenance, course safety, "EMS," and reconstruction of tire barriers. Claimant testified that he worked three to five days a week during the raceway's busy season, which started near the end of October and continued through March. Claimant further testified, "Basically we sit and wait for something to happen." If no accident occurred, claimant would turn his radio in, park his truck at the operations building, and return home. On November 23, 2001, a vehicle racing on the raceway had a suspension failure while traveling at approximately 160 miles per hour and crashed into a nine-inch-thick retaining wall. Claimant, who was one of the first fire rescue workers to arrive at the accident scene, unloaded the fire extinguishers and carried a hydraulic pump, weighing 125 pounds, and its two attachments, each weighing approximately forty to forty-five pounds, to the scene. Using the pump, claimant attempted to extricate the driver of the vehicle, who was lapsing in and out of consciousness. Due to his medical background, claimant also assisted the EMS workers with the driver. According to claimant, all four fire protection team members used the pump, i.e., the jaws of life. While some cut, others pulled the vehicle's bracing in order to extricate the driver. In total, it took claimant and the other three fire protection team members approximately forty-five minutes to extricate the driver of the vehicle. After the driver was placed into a helicopter, claimant and his co-workers began disassembling the pump, cleaning the race track, packing tools in their trucks, and filling the pump with fuel. Claimant first began experiencing unusual symptoms, including dizziness and vision problems, five minutes after the helicopter lifted off the track. After losing consciousness, claimant was rushed to the hospital, where he learned that he had suffered a heart attack. Claimant underwent a triple bypass four or five days later. Prior to this incident, claimant had been diagnosed with high blood pressure and diabetes, conditions for which he had been taking medication.1

With respect to the accident, claimant testified that it "was the first major accident that [he] had been involved with at the track since [he] started." Although claimant had been involved with serious accidents in the past, the accidents had occurred all over the United States while claimant was traveling with other race series. According to claimant, the EMS workers at the raceway would ask for his assistance maybe twice per year. William Berry, a fellow member of the fire protection team, similarly testified that the extrication at issue was "definitely the longest one [he had] ever worked on." The raceway's president and general manager, William Stephenson, testified that, while there are accidents "pretty much every week," drivers only had to be extricated from their vehicles "[p]robably a couple times a year." Stephenson also testified that the driver's injuries in this case were more extreme than usual.

In his order, the JCC, in noting claimant's cardiac history, found that claimant did not perform any job-related duty, any job-related task, or any job-related responsibility while aiding and extricating the injured driver from his vehicle that he had not previously performed while employed with the raceway. According to the JCC, the very nature of claimant's position required him to work as responsively and as quickly as possible to administer proper medical attention to injured drivers. The JCC determined that the standard as set forth in Victor Wine and Liquor, Inc. v. Beasley, 141 So.2d 581 (Fla.1961),overruled in part on other grounds by Evans v. Fla. Indus. Comm'n, 196 So.2d 748 (Fla.1967),

governed claimant's claim for workers' compensation benefits due to claimant's pre-existing cardiac condition. The JCC set forth:

I find that the record is devoid of any evidence that the Claimant engaged in any physical stress or exertion on November 23, 2001 that was non routine to his job with Sebring International Raceway. Though the evidence shows that the time spent aiding the driver in the crash which occurred on November 23, 2001 was of a longer period than average, I find that none of the tasks performed by the Claimant on that day were non routine to his job and were of the type performed by him on prior occasions. I find the seriousness of the accident to be irrelevant to this Court's analysis in light of the fact the tasks the claimant performed on November 23, 2001 were no different then [sic] those he performed on prior occasion with this same employer.

In light of his conclusion that claimant failed to establish that he met the initial threshold of showing a physical exertion not routine to his job, the JCC declined to address the issue of medical causation. The JCC concluded that claimant did not sustain an injury within the course and scope of his employment and, therefore, denied claimant's claim for workers' compensation benefits. This appeal followed.

As we have explained:

The general rule regarding the compensability of a heart attack occurring during the course of employment is that the heart attack must have been caused by the unusual strain or overexertion of a specifically identifiable effort not routine to the work the employee was accustomed to performing. Victor Wine & Liquor, Inc. v. Beasley, 141 So.2d 581 (Fla.1961); Richards Department Store v. Donin, 365 So.2d 385 (Fla.1978). In ascertaining, for workers' compensation purposes, whether a particular activity is routine, it has been said that "the analysis is not one solely predicated on the broad question of what was routine to the claimant; rather, that inquiry must necessarily be circumscribed by a consideration of what was routine to the job the claimant was accustomed to performing." Skinner v. First Florida Building Corp., 490 So.2d 1367, 1369 (Fla. 1st DCA 1986); see also Wiggs Construction v. Knowles, 497 So.2d 942 (Fla. 1st DCA 1986)

. Further, the court must look to the duties performed by the employee himself rather than by fellow workers, and examine the work done by the employee as an entirety, rather than some isolated segment of the employee's activities. Yates v. Gabrio Electric Co., 167 So.2d 565 (Fla.1964); Richards Department Store, supra. Under the principles established in the above cases, then, a proper analysis of what is "routine" must focus on the job the claimant was accustomed to performing at the time of his heart attack. Moreover, the court must examine the work done by the employee as an entirety, rather than some isolated segment of his activities. Yates, supra, at 567.

Walker v. Friendly Vill. of Brevard, 559 So.2d 258, 260 (Fla. 1st DCA 1990); see also Zundell v. Dade County Sch. Bd., 636 So.2d 8, 10 (Fla.1994)

(explaining that, under Victor Wine, a claimant whose cardiovascular injury may have been exacerbated by a pre-existing condition may be unable to recover without first establishing that the injury occurred during a job-related exertion over and above normal working conditions). Under the Victor Wine test, whether a heart attack occurred during a job-related exertion over and above normal working conditions constitutes the test for legal causation, and proof of this element is geared towards satisfying the requirement that an injury is one arising out of the employment. McCall v. Dick Burns, Inc., 408 So.2d 787, 790 (Fla. 1st DCA 1982). Under the Victor Wine test, evidence of medical causation is also required. Id. We review the JCC's findings regarding the compensability of claimant's heart attack to ascertain whether it is supported by competent, substantial evidence. See Gardinier, Inc. v. Coker, 564 So.2d 254, 256 (Fla. 1st DCA 1990) (applying the competent, substantial evidence standard in reviewing the JCC's finding that the claimant's heart attack was compensable).

In finding that claimant's heart attack was not compensable, the JCC found the seriousness of the accident and the "longer period than average" that it took to extricate the driver to be irrelevant given that claimant had previously engaged in the tasks he performed prior to suffering his heart attack. However, merely because a claimant may have previously performed the same or similar tasks as he or she performed prior to suffering a heart attack does not make the task routine to the claimant's job. In other words, when applying the Victor Wine test, the circumstances surrounding a claimant's performance of his or her job duties must be considered and are not, as found by the JCC, irrelevant to...

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3 cases
  • Coca-Cola Bottling Co. v. Perdue
    • United States
    • Florida District Court of Appeals
    • April 9, 2007
    ...Since all claimants have always been required to meet the applicable industrial causation standard, see Harper v. Sebring Int'l Raceway, Inc., 886 So.2d 288 (Fla. 1st DCA 2004), which post-2003 is the 50% plus major contributing cause standard, placing the additional burden of complying wit......
  • White v. State, 1D03-4697.
    • United States
    • Florida District Court of Appeals
    • November 10, 2004
  • Sebring Intern. Raceway, Inc. v. Harper, SC05-26.
    • United States
    • Florida Supreme Court
    • April 28, 2005

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