Landmark Ruling for Injured Workers by Florida Supreme Court
The Florida Supreme Court has made yet another landmark ruling regarding state’s Workers’ Compensation laws. This time ruling on a specific statute that previously cut off the benefits after two years, broadening it to five years of disability benefits.
The decision came down in a recent case brought by Bradley Westphal. Westphal, a Florida firefighter, suffered a severe back injury while on duty back in 2009. He received temporary total disability benefits for two years.
Under current Florida law, that is the maximum limit for those types of payments. Westphal looked for permanent disability benefits. A judge of compensation claims denied his request. The judge ruled that his request for permanent disability was premature. He stated that it was not determined that Westphal had reached “maximum medical improvement.” This created a gap in his coverage. This left Westphal without coverage for several months until he could get permanent benefits.
Westphal and his attorneys appealed to the State Supreme Court for relief. The court ruled in his favor in a 5-2 decision earlier this month. The majority opinion was written by Justice Barbara Pariente. She stated:
“the current workers’ compensation statutory scheme does not just reduce the amount of benefits he would receive … but in fact completely cuts off his ability to receive any disability benefits at all.”
Justice Pariente stated further:
“It does so even though there is no dispute that Westphal remained a severely injured and disabled firefighter under active treatment by doctors the city selected for him.”
Read the full Florida Supreme Court opinion
This ruling, was the second this year by the Florida Supreme Court in regards to the state’s worker’s compensation system. Ruling that Westphal lost his disability benefits too soon, and created a “coverage gap”.
The 2-year limitation was in place to encourage workers to once again join the workforce. However, it fails to pay special attention to individuals like Westphal. Those injured workers who are unable to return to work after 2 years due to extensive injury.
In their ruling the Florida Supreme Court stated that the worker’s compensation system must now allow 260 months (5 years) of disability benefits. This substantially increases the time from the current 104 weeks.
This landmark ruling is a victory for workers in the state. Not everyone is happy about the ruling. Insurance groups and the Florida Chamber of Commerce worry about the ruling. They fear the costs of workers’ compensation insurance will skyrocket. They feel this ruling along with another ruling earlier in April will cause insurance companies to increase rates. This will cost businesses more to insure its employees and will increase the cost of doing business. This can result in increased prices for consumers and slowed economic growth.
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