By Gwen Filosa
Key West Citizen
KEY WEST, Fla. — The city of Key West is better off settling a worker's compensation claim with a 380-pound retired firefighter rather than risk paying 15 times that if the man suffers a heart attack, according to a city attorney.
Wilmer Bringle, 58, a Key West firefighter who retired in 2011 after 30 years on the job, has agreed to settle for $30, 000, which includes $3, 700 for his lawyer and $1, 500 for other costs.
Attorney George Helm, of Lake Mary, Fla., advised the city to cut a check to end the risk of a six-figure judgment.
The City Commission will consider approving the $30, 000 check at its 6 p.m. Tuesday meeting at Old City Hall, 510 Greene St.
If approved, the city has to pay the sum within seven days.
At issue is Bringle's ongoing health problems, said Helm, whose report mentions the former firefighter's height, 6-foot-1, and weight, 380 pounds.
"I believe (Bringle) is at significant risk for a future cardiac event that could be linked to hypertension," Helm wrote to the city in a memo. "If so, our exposure on this claim is potentially catastrophic."
The "payable for life" estimate could run to $439, 000, Helm said.
Bringle's attorney, Paolo Longo of Maitland, said Friday that his client's case is not uncommon.
"Neither side wants to duke it out," Longo said. "He agreed to the terms of the settlement."
Bringle has received about $43, 000 in medical benefits on the claim since filing in 2003, when medical tests showed he had hypertension only.
Bringle filed the claim saying he had developed disabling hypertension and possible heart disease over the course of his career. He marked June 24, 2003, as the "date of accident," in his petition.
Three years later, Bringle was diagnosed with "torturous coronary arteries," diabetes, morbid obesity, and hyperuricemia. But Bringle's claim was filed under a Florida law that specifically relates to his firefighting career.
"Under the so-called 'Heart and Lung Bill,' Florida allows police officers, firefighters and prison guards who suffer from heart disease or hypertension some added legal protection In addition to his retirement benefits, Bringle is receiving Social Security, which Helm said could mean the ex-firefighter is permanently disabled. Helm said the city has "strong arguments" that Bringle's present disability is not related to hypertension but to his weight, diabetes and other ailments. But overall, it's better for the city to settle now.
"The medical exposure alone justifies such a settlement," Helm wrote.
Bringle's attorney would not comment on Helm's weight argument.
"He's advising his client to pay," said Longo.
The "Heart and Lung Bill" was the key feature of another worker's comp case settled four weeks ago.
On Jan. 7, the city approved a $141, 350 worker's comp settlement for a 28-year veteran of the fire department, Raymond Casamayor, 56, who also suffered hypertension.