The Florida Supreme Court has scheduled oral arguments for the workers’ compensation case of Stahl v. Hialeah Hospital, wherein a plaintiff alleges the current benefit system isn’t an adequate exclusive remedy absent permanent partial disability. gavel21

In layman’s terms, here’s what that means: Employees cannot sue their employer for work-related injuries except in extreme circumstances. Their only course of action against the company is to file for workers’ compensation benefits. This is why it’s called the “exclusive remedy.” However, in 2003, state legislative reforms eliminated the option of permanent partial disability benefits for those who had been hurt at work. These benefits had allowed someone who had suffered some degree of permanent disability to be compensated for that. Without that provision, plaintiff argues, exclusive remedy isn’t fair and workers should be allowed to sue their employers.

This case, slated to be heard in April, could mean significant changes to the Florida Workers’ Compensation Act if the Florida Supreme Court decides the case in favor of plaintiff.

All eyes are on this case, especially after the high court declined to hear another workers’ compensation system challenge in Florida Workers’ Advocates v. State of Florida, brought by an intervenor as opposed to the injured worker.

Already, a number of employers, insurance companies and worker advocates have filed amicus briefs with the court. This is when a party that may be affected by a particular decision informs the court of the potential consequences of a ruling one way or the other.

It’s unclear which way the court will go. Plaintiff in Stahl was a nurse who suffered injury to his lower back just two months after the legislative workers’ compensation reforms took effect.  After receiving treatment for two years, his treating doctor ascertained he’d reached maximum medical improvement. He assigned him a 7 percent disability rating.

However, without the ability to collect permanent partial disability benefits, plaintiff wasn’t able to collect any long-term compensation for his permanent injuries.

In response, he first filed a petition with the Florida Office of the Judges of Compensation Claims, which oversees workers’ compensation disputes. However, he voluntarily dismissed that filing and then filed a civil lawsuit against the hospital, alleging the health facility was negligent in causing his injury because of insufficient staffing. He further raised questions regarding the constitutionality of workers’ compensation in Florida if he couldn’t collect permanent partial disability.

Two other cases are also pending before the court. Castellanos v. Next Door Co. et al argues that a provision of the law that limits the fees collectable by plaintiff lawyers – but not defendant lawyers – hinders plaintiffs’ ability to have adequate legal representation. Another case, Westphal v. City of St. Petersburg, argues the 104-week cap on temporary disability benefits is inherently unfair to workers.

Attorneys for the plaintiff in Stahl say their goal is to revert back to a 1935 state law – repealed in 1970 – that allowed workers to choose between either filing a workers’ compensation claim or initiating a personal injury lawsuit against their employer.

There has been much discussion recently about the erosion of workers’ compensation laws throughout the country, specifically in a collaborative series between NPR and ProPublica, “The Demolition of Workers’ Compensation.”

Florida will be the first court in the country to decide whether the worker protections have so disintegrated that they no longer meet constitutional standards.

If you have been a victim of a Miami work accident, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.

Additional Resources:

Florida Supreme Court schedules argument in workers’ compensation case, Jan. 26, 2016, By Stephani Goldberg, Business Insurance

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