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Viera v. City of Lake Worth

Florida Court of Appeals, Fourth District

November 8, 2017

JOSEPH VIERA, ALICIA VIERA, PAIGE VIERA, JOEY VIERA, LYNN DEMCHAK VIERA and JOSEPH VIERA AND LYNN DEMCHAK on behalf of CHRISTOPHER DEMCHAK, Appellants,
v.
CITY OF LAKE WORTH, FLORIDA, a municipal corporation, Appellee.

         Not final until disposition of timely filed motion for rehearing.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court for the Fifteenth Judicial Circuit, Palm Beach County; Cheryl A. Cacacuzzo, Judge; L.T. Case No. 50-2010-CA-000606-XXXX-MB (AN).

          Julie H. Littky-Rubin of Clark, Fountain, La Vista, Prather, Keen & Littky-Rubin, LLP, West Palm Beach, and Ryan J. Wynne of Slinkman, Slinkman & Wynne, P.A., Jupiter, for appellants.

          Glen J. Torcivia and Matthew L. Ransdell of Torcivia, Donlon, Goddeau & Ansay, P.A., West Palm Beach, for appellee.

          Gross, J.

         Section 112.19, Florida Statutes (2015), provides benefits to certain officers connected with law enforcement. Appellant Joseph Viera, a former law enforcement officer with the City of Lake Worth, sought section 112.19(2)(h)1. benefits from the City. The circuit court dismissed his case on the ground that the statute of limitations barred his claim. Because section 112.19(2)(h)1. creates a statutory entitlement to benefits to be paid out periodically over time, we hold that the trial court erred in dismissing the portion of his claim that accrued after January 8, 2006.

         Section 112.19 provides benefits to law enforcement officers who are killed or injured in the line of duty. Section 112.19(2)(h)1. entitles a catastrophically injured employee and his family to receive health insurance benefits. That statute provides:

Any employer[1] who employs a full-time law enforcement, correctional, or correctional probation officer who, on or after January 1, 1995, suffers a catastrophic injury, as defined in s. 440.02, Florida Statutes 2002, in the line of duty shall pay the entire premium of the employer's health insurance plan for the injured employee, the injured employee's spouse, and for each dependent child of the injured employee until the child reaches the age of majority or until the end of the calendar year in which the child reaches the age of 25 if the child continues to be dependent for support, or the child is a full-time or part-time student and is dependent for support. The term "health insurance plan" does not include supplemental benefits that are not part of the basic group health insurance plan. If the injured employee subsequently dies, the employer shall continue to pay the entire health insurance premium for the surviving spouse until remarried, and for the dependent children, under the conditions outlined in this paragraph. However:
a. Health insurance benefits payable from any other source shall reduce benefits payable under this section.
b. It is unlawful for a person to willfully and knowingly make, or cause to be made, or to assist, conspire with, or urge another to make, or cause to be made, any false, fraudulent, or misleading oral or written statement to obtain health insurance coverage as provided under this paragraph. A person who violates this sub-subparagraph commits a misdemeanor of the first degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083.
c. In addition to any applicable criminal penalty, upon conviction for a violation as described in sub-subparagraph b., a law enforcement, correctional, or correctional probation officer or other beneficiary who receives or seeks to receive health insurance benefits under this paragraph shall forfeit the right to receive such health insurance benefits, and shall reimburse the employer for all benefits paid due to the fraud or other prohibited activity. For purposes of this sub-subparagraph, "conviction" means a determination of guilt that is the result of a plea or trial, regardless of whether adjudication is withheld.

(Emphasis supplied).

         Viera suffered catastrophic injuries which rendered him permanently and totally disabled. Due to his injuries, he separated from employment with the City as a "disability retiree, " effective June 22, 2001. After December 10, 2002, Viera had no personal or group health insurance coverage. Viera reached a workers' compensation settlement with the City in 2008.[2]

         On January 8, 2010, Viera, along with his dependent children, filed a declaratory relief action seeking (1) a declaration that the City did not perform its statutory duty of paying for health insurance coverage under section 112.19(2)(h)1., Florida Statutes; (2) an order directing the City to pay for future health insurance coverage; and (3) an award of ...


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