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Recent Challenges To Florida’s Worker’s Compensation Laws

In 2003, Florida overhauled their worker’s compensation laws in order to to reduce the increasing rates of worker’s compensation insurance. However, this year the Florida Supreme Court is hearing three cases that challenge the 2003 laws concerning Florida’s worker’s compensation. These cases are major and could potentially have far-reaching consequences. Here is a brief summary of each of the main cases being heard.

Miles Vs City Of Edgewater Police

On April 21, 2016, the Florida Supreme Court ruled on Miles vs City of Edgewater Police. The case concerned police officer Martha Miles who had been seeking worker’s compensation after exposure to methamphetamines on the job had caused her to take ill. However, because of the Florida state law that restricts police officers from paying legal representation to pursue worker’s compensation insurance claim, she was unable to redress her grievances and her claim was denied in court. So she filed an appeal and argued that the Florida laws concerning the limits on legal fees, specifically the ban on retainers and hourly fees, prevented her from being able to get fair representation and thus, lost her right to pursuing her claim.

The Florida Supreme Court agreed with Miles. Florida’s worker’s compensation claim laws did prevent Miles from seeking adequate damages for her claim. The court ruled in favor of Miles stating that the state laws infringed on the First Amendment rights of free speech and the ability to seek redress for grievances.

Daniel Stahl Vs Hialeah Hospital

On April 16, 2016, the Florida Supreme Court began hearings on Daniel Stahl vs Hialeah Hospital. Stahl injured his back while working as a nurse at Hialeah Hospital. Since the changes to the laws meant that Stahl could not file a worker’s compensation claim but that the hospital had to provide the benefits necessary to cover any on the job injury, Stahl sought treatment under his benefits. However, Stahl reached his maximum medical improvement and though he had a 6% impairment rating, did not qualify for permanent total disability. He did however receive some compensation for missed wages. Yet the benefits provided by Hialeah Hospital did not cover the full amount of expenses for the injury.

Stahl’s legal team is challenging the legitimacy of a system that does not allow lawsuits in cases of worker’s compensation. While the defense is arguing that this particular case does not merit a challenge to 2003 overhaul as many people are still receiving adequate benefits for their worker’s compensation claims. Depending on the court’s ruling, there may be a huge change to Florida’s Worker’s Compensation Claims.

Bradley Westphal Vs. City of St. Petersburg

On March 24, 2016, the Florida Supreme Court began hearing the case of Bradley Westphal vs. City of St. Petersburg. Westphal was a firefighter and paramedic who was injured on the job leading to a disability. Westphal received benefits for his disability but because of a cap of 104 weeks, was denied further benefits even though he was medically advised not to work. His initial ruling in 2013 extended the benefit to the 1994 laws that allowed for 260 weeks.

However, the case was appealed by the defendant because there is concern that the extension will cost employers upwards of $65 million dollars. The Florida Supreme court is currently weighing out the constitutionality of allowing this extension. If the court still upholds the ruling, there will be large-scale changes to the worker’s compensation system.

The results of these cases may force the state legislature to rewrite the 2003 worker’s compensation laws to reflect the court’s rulings. If the current laws are deemed unconstitutional, the state legislature will have to work with insurance companies and employers to rewrite the legal code in the new legislative term. The cases will have a big impact on people seeking remediation for their worker’s compensation claim, so it is important to understand how these will impact the laws.