Zephyrhills, FL (Law Firm Newswire) March 26, 2013 – A Florida appeals court has declared part of the state’s workers compensation system unconstitutional.
The case involved an injured firefighter’s battle for disability benefits. The 1st District Court of Appeal invalidated a law that set a limit of two years on temporary disability benefits. Under that law, St. Petersburg Fire Department employee Bradley Westphal saw his disability payments cut off in 2011. Although unable to return to work, he was not eligible for permanent disability payments because he did not meet the criteria.
Zephyrhills personal injury attorney Robert Alston, who is not involved in the case, commented, “In some cases, an injured worker might not qualify for total permanent disability benefits, but might need more than two years of temporary benefits. While there are valid reasons for lawmakers to want to cut workers compensation insurance costs, those needs must be balanced against the needs of the injured to be made whole.”
Judge Brad Thomas wrote that limiting temporary benefits to two years was inadequate in situations such as Westphal’s, saying there was “no public necessity” for such a limitation and calling the system “fundamentally unjust.”
While on duty in late 2009, Westphal sustained serious injury to his leg and back and later required surgery on his spine. He received total disability benefits for the maximum temporary period of two years. He was not determined to have reached “maximum medical improvement,” a key requirement for qualifying for permanent benefits. His payments ceased in December 2011.
In November 2012, St. Petersburg agreed to qualify Westphal for permanent disability retroactive to September 2012, leaving a gap of nine months for which he would receive no compensation.
Florida legislators enacted the two-year limit on temporary benefits in 1993. The recent court ruling returns the limit to five years, the same as before the 1993 law.
State attorneys argued during court proceedings that lawmakers had approved the limits in order to cut costs for businesses struggling to pay for workers compensation insurance.
But the court found that the limits denied Westphal’s constitutional rights. The ruling established that although workers compensation is intended to reduce civil suits, it must protect injured workers’ legal rights.
Robert Alston is a partner in the firm of Alston & Baker, P. A. To contact a Zephyrhills Social Security lawyer, Zephyrhills accident attorney, or Zephyrhills divorce lawyer, visit http://www.alstonbakerlaw.com.
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