Miami Beach police officer’s workers comp claim denied despite 11-week hospitalization with COVID-19

A Miami Beach police officer who spent 11 weeks in the hospital battling COVID-19 last year is dealing with another unwanted issue.

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. – A Miami Beach police officer who spent 11 weeks in the hospital battling COVID-19 last year is dealing with another unwanted issue.

That officer told Local 10 News he may lose his worker’s compensation for the time he spent in the hospital, even though others did not.

In a tweet back in November, it was the Miami Beach Police Department that celebrated Officer J.C. Sampedro’s release from the hospital.

At times during his hospitalization, Sampedro was intubated and on a ventilator.

“The damage to his lungs is still there and that’s something that is an obstacle returning to work,” said Miami Beach Police Union President Paul Ozaeta.

Sampedro, a former marine who has been a Miami Beach police officer since the early 90s, is still recovering and is now fearful he will lose his workers comp for a disease he says he likely contracted on the job.

“Here is where it gets bad; were he to stop getting a paycheck, he’s also not getting medical benefits,” said Ozaeta.

Sampedeo’s attorney, Geoff Bichler, says it’s not clear why the city is denying his claims.

“It’s extremely concerning,” he said.

Bichler says Sampedeo should be entitled to those lost wages and full medical care under the workers comp act.

“My understanding is that there were at least 25 other officers that contracted COVID and were provide workers compensation benefits,” he said.

Bichler added that this is a trend and that he has other first responder clients and hundreds of cases where they were denied such benefits.

“It’s unfortunate,” he said. “It’s unnecessary.”

Ozeata is quick to reminds that police officers have been out in public throughout the pandemic, even when we didn’t know much about COVID-19.

“So long as COVID exists and is still a transmissible disease, we’re always going to be exposed to it and we are going to need that protection,” he said. “We’re going to need the city to cover us and back us up.”

The City of Miami Beach says Sampedro “is fully insured though his employment with the city. To date, he has not lost a day of pay as a result of his COVID illness. As there is pending litigation, we cannot comment further.”

On December 29, 2021, city employees received an e-mail with policy updates regarding administrative time for employees who are fully vaccinated but then later tested positive.

“This practice is ending,” wrote Marla Alpizar, Miami Beach Human Resources Interim Director.

Alpizar wrote, “Effective January 10, 2022, we will only provide admin time to employees who are fully vaccinated AND BOOSTED but who later test positive OR to employees who are fully vaccinated within the last 6 months. All other employees who are out due to any COVID-related reason are on their own leave.”

About the Author:

In January 2017, Hatzel Vela became the first local television journalist in the country to move to Cuba and cover the island from the inside. During his time living and working in Cuba, he covered some of the most significant stories in a post-Fidel Castro Cuba.