Has the Expanding Compensability of Heart Attacks in Florida Put a Cork in Victor Wine?
In 2014, heart disease accounted for 24 percent of deaths in Florida.1 In 1961, Florida courts first addressed the compensability of heart attacks occurring at work in Victor Wine & Liquor, Inc. v. Beasley, 141 So. 2d 581 (Fla. 1961).2 Before Victor Wine, in order for a claimant to receive compensation or benefits under the workers’ compensation system, the claimant had to prove that the occurrence of an accidental injury or death arising out of work performed was in the course and scope of employment.3 Thus, when Victor Wine was decided, there was no statutory test to use as a threshold for establishing industrial causation.4 The test set forth in Victor Wine was originally established to require at least some industrial causation where a claimant experienced a heart attack while performing his or her work duties when he or she suffered from pre-existing heart disease.5
In 1993, the Florida Legislature amended F.S. §440.02(32) and, in 2003, amended F.S. §440.09(1).6 These amendments created a statutory test whereby claimants were required to show that the major contributing cause of an injury was industrial and to make this showing by medical evidence in order to prove compensability.7 Despite these amendments addressing compensability of industrial injuries, the courts until recently had yet to address whether the amendments superseded Victor Wine for dates of accidents occurring after October 1, 2003, thereby creating a question of whether Victor Wine was still applicable.
In 1961, the Florida Supreme Court in Victor Wine stated:
[W]hen disabling heart attacks are involved and where such heart conditions are precipitated by work-connected exertion affecting a pre-existing non-disabling heart disease, said injuries are compensable only if the employee was at the time subject to unusual strain or over-exertion not routine to the type of work he was accustomed to performing.8
In 1978, the Florida Supreme Court extended the Victor Wine test to “other failures of the general cardiovascular system.”9 In Richard E. Mosca & Co., Inc. v. Mosca, 362 So. 2d 1340, 1342 (Fla. 1978), Mosca was under a “great deal of stress and strain and had been working long hours.” At an important sales meeting, he “suffered a rupture of a congenital cerebral aneurysm.”10 The court concluded that Mosca “failed to meet the test of Victor Wine because there is no evidence to show that the ruptured aneurysm was caused by any unusual strain or overexertion by the claimant resulting from a specifically identifiable effort by him not routine to the type of work he was accustomed to performing.”11
Initially, the Victor Wine test was consistently applied to all heart claims, even those with no pre-existing conditions.12 However, in 1994, the Florida Supreme Court overturned this notion in the case of Zundell v. Dade County School Bd., 636 So. 2d 8, 11 (Fla. 1994), stating “[A]bsent sufficient evidence of a preexisting condition, cases involving alleged workplace cardiovascular injuries generally should be analyzed like any other workplace injury.”
In 1993, the Florida Legislature amended F.S. §440.02(32) to add major contributing cause (MCC 1), as the new evidentiary standard claimants had to meet before being able to receive workers’ compensation benefits. The amendment went into effect on January 1, 1994.13 It stated that an accident only arose out of the course and scope of employment if the work being performed was the “major contributing cause” of the injury or death.14 MCC 1 was defined as the “workplace accident must be greater than any other single cause contributing to the disability or need for treatment.”15
After the 1993 amendment, courts had a statutory test to use as a threshold for establishing industrial causation. In support of this notion, the court in Mangold v. Rainforest Golf Sports Ctr., 675 So. 2d 639, 642 (Fla. 1st DCA 1996), stated:
[I]n revising the workers’ compensation statute as it relates to injuries subsequent to or preexisting conditions aggravated by the industrial accident, it is apparent that the [l]egislature intended to create a more stringent evidentiary standard than that which was required for such injuries and conditions occurring prior to January 1, 1994.
However, instead of applying MCC 1 to heart claims, the courts continued to apply the Victor Wine test.16
In 2003, the Florida Legislature amended the definition of “major contributing cause” (MCC 2) in F.S. §440.09(1).17 MCC 2 means “the cause which is more than 50 percent responsible for the injury as compared to all other causes combined for which treatment or benefits are sought.”18 Additionally, claimants had to prove MCC 2 by medical evidence only.19 However, once again, instead of applying MCC 2 as the standard to establish industrial causation, the courts kept applying the Victor Wine test.20
In 2008, the court finally questioned the continued viability of Victor Wine in the case of Coca-Cola Bottling Co. v. Perdue, 955 So. 2d 73, 75 (Fla. 1st DCA 2007). Despite deciding the case under the 2003 Victor Wine test, the court voiced their disagreement, in dicta, regarding the burdensome nature of applying the 2003 Victor Wine test to heart attack claims. The court stated that applying the court-created Victor Wine test, in addition to the MCC test, seems “unduly burdensome and inappropriate.” The court noted that the original purpose of the Victor Wine test was to establish industrial causation when claimants suffered heart attacks while performing their work duties, while also having pre-existing heart disease. With the 1994 and 2003 amendments creating MCC 1 and MCC 2, and the requirement of now showing that the major contributing cause of an injury is industrial through medical evidence, the court was concerned that also applying the Victor Wine test would create an unfair additional burden of proof for claimants in heart attack cases.21
Until recently, the First District Court of Appeal had been reluctant to address further whether Victor Wine was still applicable to heart claims, following the decision in Perdue. In Speed v. Securitas USA, 989 So. 2d 710 (Fla. 1st DCA 2008), the court did not specifically address whether Victor Wine was still applicable, but opted not to analyze the case under the Victor Wine test.22 The court applied the MCC 2 standard to its analysis and held that because the employer/carrier failed to establish that the heart attack suffered by the claimant was due to a mental or nervous injury, and because the independent medical examiner had provided undisputed evidence that it was caused by stress from a malfunctioning elevator, the claim was compensable.23 The court further stated that the employer/carrier failed to provide evidence that the claimant suffered from a prior diagnosed mental or nervous injury, and that, therefore, the injury must be the major contributing cause of the heart attack.24
The original purpose of Victor Wine was to create a threshold for industrial causation because the Florida Legislature had yet to address the issue. creating MCC 1 and MCC 2, there is now a standard to establish industrial causation, and, thus, Victor Wine should no longer be applicable.
Recently, in the case of Energy Air and Amerisure Ins. Co. v. Lalonde, 135 So. 3d 1090 (Fla. 1st DCA 2014), the court made a definitive statement in regard to the applicable standard of causation. In this case, the court made no mention of Victor Wine and held that a heat-exhaustion injury at work was compensable. The court reasoned that “prior court-created causation standards are superseded by the [l]egislature’s adoption of the ‘major contributing cause’ standard effective January 1, 1994, see [§§]440.09(1)[,] 440.02(36), Florida Statutes (2012)….”25 Thus, as a result of the amendments, and following the mandate of the Lalonde case, MCC 2 is the current accepted standard to establish industrial causation when claimants suffer from heart attacks while on the job.
1 American Heart Association, Florida State Fact Sheet (Dec. 9, 2014).
2 Brian B. Bolton & Robert L. Dietz, No (Victor) Wine Before Its Time: Revisiting the Expanding Compensability of Heart Attacks Eight Years Later, Fla. B. J. 77 (Oct. 1996); see also Dietz & Bolton, Heart Attacks: Is Florida Recognizing Expanded Compensability?, 62 Fla. B. J. 35 (Feb. 1988).
3 Mario L. Perez & Daniel T. Chang, What Is That Major Contributing Cause, Anyway? An Analysis of Major Contributing Cause and Its Application, Fla. B. J. 73 (Jan. 2000).
4 Coca-Cola Bottling Co. v. Perdue, 955 So. 2d 73, 75 (Fla. 1st DCA 2007).
6 Fla. Stat. §440.09(1) (2003); see also Fla. Stat. §440.02(32) (1993).
7 Fla. Stat. §440.09(1) (2003).
8 Victor Wine & Liquor, Inc. v. Beasley, 141 So. 2d 581, 588-89 (Fla. 1961) (hereinafter Victor Wine test).
9 Richard E. Mosca & Co., Inc. v. Mosca, 362 So. 2d 1340, 1342 (Fla. 1978).
10 Id. at 1341.
11 Id. at 1344.
12 Zundell v. Dade County School Bd., 636 So. 2d 8, 11 (Fla. 1994).
13 Fla. Stat. §440.02(32) (1993).
15 Fla. Stat. §440.09(1)(b); see also Closet Maid v. Sykes, 763 So. 2d 377 (Fla. 1st DCA 2000).
16 Mangold, 675 So. 2d at 642.
17 Fla. Stat. §440.09 (2003).
18 Fla. Stat. §440.09(1).
20 Perdue, 955 So. 2d at 75.
21 Id.; see also Victor Wine, 141 So. 2d at 581.
22 Speed, 989 So. 2d at 710.
23 Id. at 712.
24 Id. at 712-13.
25 Lalonde, 135 So. 3d at 1090.
Andrew J. Manie, prior to earning his J.D. from Barry University School of Law in 2014 with an honors certificate in trial advocacy, served in the U.S. Marine Corp. He is an associate at the Law Office of Elayne M. Perez, P.A., in Orlando, practicing foreclosure, bankruptcy, debt collection defense, and immigration.
This column is submitted on behalf of the Workers’ Compensation Section, Michael J. Winer, chair, and Pam Foels, editor.