A Cloudy Forecast for the Sunshine State
Under Florida law, like many states, workers injured on the job must seek benefits under the Workers’ Compensation system due to an exclusive remedy provision in the applicable state Workers' Compensation Act. In return for this no-fault exclusive remedy system, workers give up their right to sue their employers. Recently, a Florida judge ruled that the Florida Workers' Compensation Act no longer provides adequate benefits to injured workers and is therefore unconstitutional. His rationale for the decision was the fact that the Workers' Compensation Act does NOT provide any level of permanent partial disability benefit, which has been absent since the 2003 Workers’ Compensation reforms. The judge focused on the exclusive remedy provision of the law, finding that, due to the many cuts in medical and wage-loss benefits made by lawmakers over the years, the system no longer represents a fair deal for injured workers.
Lawmakers have said that these reductions to the employee benefits were necessary to make Florida competitive with other states to attract and retain businesses. Benefits for injured workers were also reduced after industry complained that Workers’ Compensation insurance carriers were charging amongst the highest premiums in the country. Since the 2003 revisions, premiums have declined by 56 percent but the judge stated that the benefits in the Florida Workers' Compensation Act have been decimated since its original inception and that it no longer provides a reasonable alternative to filing suit in civil court. The judge also stated that if the Act would provide full medical care and some compensation for total or partial disability, the Act would then remain constitutional. In its current form, the judge believes that the Act is inadequate as an exclusive replacement remedy for all injured workers.
The legal community expects an appeal of the case. In addition, there are two other major cases right now disputing similar limitations on benefits, so a resolution may take some time. Regardless, this case opened a can of worms in the United States. Right now, two workers can have a similar type of injury, treatment type and the same lost time but, if they’re in different jurisdictions, there may be a disparity in the value of the cases due to the state-by-state basis of Workers' Compensation law. We’ll continue to follow this decision as it’ll surely cause a ripple effect to other states’ Workers’ Compensation laws in the future.
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