ORLANDO, Fla. — An Orlando firefighter is considering suing the city after he was denied benefits following his cancer diagnosis.
Scott Suehle was seeking a one-time $25,000 payout under Florida’s 2019 firefighter cancer law, but the city denied his claim because his diagnosis pre-dates that statute. Now, Channel 9 investigative reporter Karla Ray learned a change to Florida’s court system may give Suehle another shot.
Scott Suehle just hit 27 years with the Orlando Fire Department, and a few weeks ago, he received a three-line memo denying him a one-time $25,000 payment under Florida law, because his diagnosis of colon cancer came before the law went into place in 2019.
“I’ve never, in my life, ever thought about suing anybody, or pursuing a legal case like that,” Suehle said. “But I feel like at this point, with the way the original judge ruled on the case, that’s the avenue I need to pursue against the city.”
He’s referring to a court order in which a judge who looked at his case at the request of the city of Orlando, determined the law was “intended to apply to even those firefighters who were diagnosed before the statute’s enactment.” But a different appeals court judge, who ruled on retired Volusia County firefighter Kathleen Weaver’s claim for ovarian cancer, disagreed. That gave Orlando a precedent to rely on when denying Suehle’s claim.
“So the understanding, I think, that the city is operating under, is that the Weaver case is binding. We don’t believe it is,” attorney Geoff Bichler said.
Bichler says that’s because of a recent change to Florida’s court system. As of Jan. 1, the Ninth Judicial Circuit, Orange and Osceola counties, are no longer part of the Fifth District Court of Appeals. Now, they’re in the newly-created Sixth District Court of Appeals.
“If you look at the law, it’s extremely ambiguous on this point. It does not say that it’s not retroactive. It does not say that. It just says if you have this cancer, you’re covered. So why wouldn’t it apply retroactively? And that’s how we look at it,” Bichler said.
Bichler says if an appeal in the Sixth DCA went in his client’s favor, it would create conflict of jurisdiction and end up in Florida’s Supreme Court.
“If we could get some of this stuff cleaned up, so that people that have fallen into the same category as me could benefit from it, that would be an astonishing feat for not just myself, but all firefighters statewide,” Suehle said.
As of late 2022, the city had spent nearly $35,000 litigating its case against Suehle.
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