More than a dozen years have passed since lawmakers in Florida overhauled the state’s workers’ compensation insurance system. Now, the Florida Supreme Court will decide a case that could have serious implications for injured workers, businesses and insurance companies.
A former hospital nurse from Hialeah asked the court to declare Florida’s workers’ compensation law unconstitutional, asserting that the ongoing erosion of benefits year after year fails to pass constitutional muster.
The court heard oral arguments earlier this month in Stahl v. Hialeah Hospital et al., in which nurse Daniel Stahl laid forth the case that workers’ compensation in Florida — since its inception in 1935 — has been “picked away and picked away” by lawmakers seeking to appease corporate fundraisers and insurance lobbyists. It has resulted in a situation where, the plaintiff alleged, workers in Florida are not much better off those those toiling away in sweat factories.
Specifically at issue in the Stahl case is that plaintiff would have been entitled to permanent partial disability benefits due to a work-related injury — but those benefits no longer exist in Florida due to legislative changes in recent years.
Here’s why this matters to all injured workers in the state: Workers’ compensation was created as a “grand bargain.” In exchange for fast, fault-free benefits for basic needs (i.e., medical expenses, lost wages, funeral expenses, survivor benefits, etc.), workers forfeit the right to sue their employers for negligence that results in a work-related injury. This is referred to as the “exclusive remedy.”
But back in 2003, state legislators scrapped benefits for permanent partial disability. So workers who have suffered some degree of permanent but not total disability can’t obtain long-term compensation anymore. That’s wrong, plaintiff argues.
The case is being closely watched, especially after justices decided not to weigh in on another workers’ comp challenge, Florida Workers’ Advocates v. State of Florida.
While one justice raised the issue that this plaintiff, who was injured back in 2003 — just after the new law was passed — while lifting a patient, effectively expanded his challenge to encompass the entire workers’ compensation system. Plaintiff’s attorney countered that while no worker would have every single section of the law apply to them, it was nonetheless appropriate to challenge the entire law. Defense attorneys posited that this idea of the “kitchen sink cumulative argument” is best left to the legislature, while the courts should only consider taking a position on the law where the case has ample relevant issues and evidence.
The hospital further argued that even if the court were to take on this issue, plaintiff wasn’t the best person for it because he never established he would have been entitled to permanent partial disability in the first place.
After plaintiff’s injury, he was no longer able to continue doing his job. He had no choice but to seek other employment, which in his case involved teaching at a nursing school. This meant accepting a pay cut. For this, he says, he absolutely could and probably would have been compensated with permanent partial disability.
Florida lawmakers have slashed workers’ rights repeatedly over the years with a myriad of measures, including:
- 1970 — repealing the right to opt-out of the system;
- 1993 — Reducing temporary disability benefits limit to 104 weeks;
- 2003 — removing benefits for partial disability
If you have been injured at work, call our offices today.
If you have been a victim of a traffic accident, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.
Workers’ comp fight could have high stakes, April 4, 2016, By Jim Saunders, Sun Sentinel
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Construction Accident Statistics Keep Workers on High Alert, Oct. 10, 2014, Miami Work Injury Lawyer Blog