Burger King Corp. v. Lastre-Torres – Third-Party Liability for Florida Work Injury

In Florida, workers’ compensation is considered the exclusive remedy for workplace injuries. There is sometimes confusion about what this means. In most cases, if you are injured at work, you can collect workers’ compensation benefits, assuming your employer had the appropriate coverage and your injury/ illness occurred in the course and scope of employment. However, by collecting those benefits, you are not able to turn around and sue your employer for negligence. This is all part of the “grand bargain” that was reached when the workers’ compensation insurance system was first formed. cleaning1

Still, this “exclusive remedy” does not mean injured workers are unable to collect from negligent third parties. Those entities are not protected under the exclusive remedy provision. While workers do not have to prove their employer was negligent in order to collect workers’ compensation coverage, they do need to prove any third party defendants were negligent in causing the injury, just as they would any other personal injury lawsuit.

The recent case of Burger King Corp. v. Lastre-Torres is a third-party liability lawsuit stemming from a workplace injury. It was considered by Florida’s 3rd District Court of Appeal. 

According to court records, the fast-food restaurant chain was appealing a final judgment entered in favor of claimant, who alleged he was injured while working for a cleaning company hired to clean the restaurant chain’s equipment. The court affirmed in part the judgment, but reversed the damage award of past and future medical expenses, deeming them excessive, and remanding the matter for further consideration by the lower courts.

Plaintiff was employed by a cleaning service that contracted with the restaurant and was injured while a degreaser used to clean the hood of the fryer dripped into his eye. Plaintiff testified he had requested a mask on numerous occasions prior to his injury, but that none was ever provided. Numerous witnesses testified on behalf of defendant company, indicating there were weekly inspections made of all the equipment — including a mask that was reportedly present at that location. However, jurors reportedly concluded otherwise, and as the appellate court noted, “we are not free to substitute our opinion on such factual matters.”

An expert witness testified plaintiff would need a prosthetic eye due to the extent of his injuries.

Jurors ultimately sided with plaintiff and awarded him $931,000 in damages. That included $29,000 for previous medical expenses, $52,000 for future medical expenses, $50,000 for previous pain and suffering and $800,000 for future pain and suffering. Jurors also apportioned 90 percent of the blame onto the restaurant, meaning a final judgment was entered in the amount of $838,000 against the fast-food chain.

Defendant moved for a remittitur (or a new trial), both of which were denied. Plaintiff was also awarded $92,000 in attorney’s fees and $7,000 in costs, based on the fact plaintiff had offered to settle for a much lower amount than was ultimately awarded by the jury, but defense had rejected that offer.

Upon appeal, justices granted defense motion for remittitur, reducing the jury’s award of $29,000 down to $4,000, saying the former was “clearly excessive” and also “unsupported by evidence.” A similar reduction — from $52,000 to $24,000 — was made for future medical expenses.

Although this represents a substantial reduction, it will not affect the bulk of plaintiff’s damage award.

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

Additional Resources:

Burger King Corp. v. Lastre-Torres , Sept. 7, 2016, Florida’s 3rd District Court of Appeal

More Blog Entries:

Benda v. Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City – Filial Loss of Consortium Claim Allowed, Sept. 1, 2016, Miami Work Injury Attorney Blog