Zundell v. Dade County School Bd., 81057

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Florida
Citation636 So.2d 8
Docket NumberNo. 81057,81057
Parties19 Fla. L. Weekly S115 Warren ZUNDELL, Petitioner, v. DADE COUNTY SCHOOL BOARD, et al., Respondents.
Decision Date10 March 1994

Steven M. Dunn of Dunn & Johnson, P.A., Miami, for petitioner.

Sylvia A. Krainin of Kelley, Kronenberg, Kelley, Gilmartin & Fichtel, P.A., Miami Lakes, for respondents.

Cecilia F. Renn, General Counsel and Julie E. Douthit, Tallahassee, amicus curiae for Dept. of Labor and Employment Sec. Div. of Workers' Compensation.

Richard A. Barnett of Barnett & Hammer, P.A., Hollywood, amicus curiae for The Academy of Florida Trial Lawyers.

KOGAN, Justice.

We have for review the following question certified to be of great public importance:


Zundell v. Dade County School Bd., 609 So.2d 1367, 1371 (Fla. 1st DCA 1992). We rephrase the question as follows:

Whether the rule announced in Victor Wine & Liquor, Inc., v. Beasley, 141 So.2d 581 (Fla.1962), ever can apply to cardiovascular injuries occurring on the job when competent substantial medical evidence shows no evidence of a preexisting condition relevant to the injury?

We have jurisdiction. Art. V, Sec. 3(b)(4), Fla. Const.

Warren Zundell was an algebra teacher at Hialeah Junior High. On January 5, 1988 while dealing with a disruptive student, Zundell suffered a hemorrhage of the brain that later resulted in his retirement. The injury occurred following a series of problems with the student. The student was being unruly and was chewing a large wad of gum. When Zundell ordered the student to remove the gum, the student hurled the wad "like a baseball into the waste can" and then began screaming very loudly, "The gum is gone." Afterward, Zundell was forced to take the student twice to the school office for discipline--the second time after the student had attempted to return to class without apparent authorization.

After the second trip to the office, Zundell began feeling ill. He was unable to move his arms or stand up. Then he began vomiting and experiencing an intense headache. A rescue unit had to be summoned, and Zundell immediately was taken to a hospital. He later was diagnosed with the hemorrhage.

Medical evidence showed no preexisting condition that might explain the injury, although an expert also noted that such evidence sometimes is elusive. In any event, no other evidence existed to refute the medical finding of a lack of a preexisting condition. The expert did indicate that Zundell's hemorrhage most probably was caused by an elevation in blood pressure precipitated by the encounter with the student.

Zundell sought workers' compensation benefits for the incident, but the judge of compensation claims denied the petition. As grounds, the compensation judge relied on the standard announced in Victor Wine. On appeal, a divided First District Court of Appeal sitting en banc affirmed but certified the question. Zundell, 609 So.2d at 1371.

The rule of law announced in Victor Wine was intended to deal with the peculiar problem that arises when a worker's compensation claimant suffers a cardiovascular injury on the job that appears at least partly to have been caused by a preexisting medical condition. Under Victor Wine, a claimant whose injury may have been exacerbated by such a condition may be unable to recover without first showing that the injury occurred during a job-related exertion over and above normal working conditions. 3 Victor Wine, 141 So.2d at 588-89.

The Victor Wine rule rests on the policy that employers should not be held responsible for the preexisting condition and injuries that may normally flow from it. Put another way, Victor Wine is a means of determining when and how the cost of the injury will be apportioned so that employers only are liable for what is reasonably attributable to workplace conditions.

The exact method by which Victor Wine achieves this division has been criticized as placing an unfair burden on the claimant. E.g., Zundell, 609 So.2d at 1373 (Webster, J., dissenting in part, concurring in part). However, we need not and therefore do not revisit the soundness of that analysis or its exact contours today, because the present case does not involve a preexisting condition and therefore does not implicate Victor Wine in the first instance. As Judge Webster correctly noted in dissent below, this Court has never extended Victor Wine to encompass cases in which the evidence showed a lack of any preexisting condition. Id. at 1372 (citing cases). District court cases that appear to have done so to that degree have improperly extended Victor Wine to issues it was not intended to address. 4

Absent sufficient evidence of a preexisting condition, cases involving alleged workplace cardiovascular injuries generally should be analyzed like any other workplace injury. Such injuries often may be essentially no different, for example, than a hernia brought on by routine workplace exertion, in the absence of a preexisting condition. As Judge Ervin noted below, we clearly have allowed compensation for hernias in that situation. Id. at 1382 (Ervin, J., dissenting) (citing Duff Hotel Co. v. Ficara, 150 Fla. 442, 7 So.2d 790 (1942)).

The facts of the present case show that Zundell encountered in the workplace a situation involving some level of actual exertion--correcting a severely disruptive student--even though this exertion was within the parameters of routine job performance; and the medical evidence indicates within a reasonable degree of medical probability that this exertion resulted in the cardiovascular injury he suffered and that there was no other ascertainable cause. For present purposes, these facts essentially are indistinguishable from a workplace exertion resulting in a hernia.

Moreover, we believe it would be inherently unfair to deny compensation here, when Zundell's injury so clearly arose from a situation inherent in the workplace, which Zundell normally would not have encountered in his non-work life. The entire policy of worker's compensation is to ensure that workers are swiftly and fairly compensated for work-related injuries. Worker's compensation was not intended to erect arcane rules that would deny employees compensation for injuries clearly arising from workplace conditions.

We are aware that cases sometimes say that job-related stress alone may not be sufficient to permit compensation in certain cases. E.g., University of Florida v. Massie, 602 So.2d 516, 526 (Fla.1992). While that may be true based on the facts of specific cases, 5 see id., it is not always so, as other cases clearly show. For example, there is a distinction between stress itself and a workplace exertion, whether or not the latter is stressful. If an exertion has resulted in injury within a reasonable degree of medical probability, then compensation is permissible even if the exertion itself also has resulted in or been associated with some degree of stress. We believe this must be true in light of the fact that even purely psychic injury may be compensable if actually caused by physical trauma arising from work conditions, however slight. See City of Holmes Beach v. Grace, 598 So.2d 71 (Fla.1992).

Moreover, the relevant statute states:

"Accident" means only an unexpected or unusual event or result, happening suddenly. A mental or nervous injury due to fright or excitement only ... shall be deemed not to be an injury by accident arising out of the employment. Where a preexisting disease or anomaly is accelerated or aggravated...

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13 cases
  • Childers v. State, No. 1D03-2154.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Florida (US)
    • 28 Junio 2006
    ...Sch. Bd., 609 So.2d 1367 (Fla. 1st DCA 1992) (en banc decision released without antecedent publication of panel decision), quashed by 636 So.2d 8 (Fla.1994); Jones v. State, 606 So.2d 709 (Fla. 1st DCA 1992) (en banc decision released without antecedent publication of panel decision), quash......
  • Childers v. State, 1D03-2154.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Florida (US)
    • 28 Junio 2006
    ...Sch. Bd., 609 So.2d 1367 (Fla. 1st DCA 1992) (en banc decision released without antecedent publication of panel decision), quashed by 636 So.2d 8 (Fla.1994); Jones v. State, 606 So.2d 709 (Fla. 1st DCA 1992) (en banc decision released without antecedent publication of panel decision), quash......
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    • Court of Appeal of Florida (US)
    • 26 Abril 1996
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    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Florida (US)
    • 6 Enero 1997
    ...of employment unless the original injury is the major contributing cause of the subsequent injury); Zundell v. Dade County School Bd., 636 So.2d 8, 10 (Fla.1994) (Under rule of Victor Wine & Liquor, Inc. v. Beasley, 141 So.2d 581, 588 (Fla.1961), claimant whose preexisting cardiovascular co......
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