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Florida Court Overturns Part of Workers’ Compensation Law

In the case of Westphal v. City of St. Petersburg Florida’s First DCA court recently ruled that the 104 week limit to indemnity benefits (the wage replacement benefits available to injured workers who are out of work due to their work injuries) in Florida’s Workers’ Compensation Laws is unconstitutional.

The ruling and language used by the Court when discussing the numerous changes to Florida’s workers’ compensation laws and the reduction of benefits available to injured workers since 1994 is very encouraging but more needs to be done going forward.

In the opinion the Court not only called the 104 weeks limitation unconstitutional it also called into question many other changes Florida’s legislature has given to industry at the expense of injured workers. The Court expressed concern about the portion of the law that allows employers and insurance companies to not only chose treating doctors but allows them to speak with those doctors without the patient’s authorization. In the opinion the Court called a person’s right to control their own medical treatment an “inherent right” a right we each have in a free society that can’t be taken away. Should the Court eventually rule the medical portion of the law injured workers would then be able to have far greater control of their workers’ compensation cases and medical treatment.

Additionally, the Court called into question the part of the law that provides for “apportionment” of medical benefits. Under that provision the injured worker is responsible for paying for a portion of their medical treatment equal to any need attributable to prior medical conditions even if they were not symptomatic before the work accident. The opinion discusses in dicta that any workers’ compensation law needs to provide “full medical” in order to be considered a reasonable alternative to the common law right to sue their employer in circuit court.

In summary the Westphal case points to a possible reversal of portions of Florida’s workers’ compensation laws that have long benefited corporations and their insurance carriers at the expense of Florida’s workers. This would be much needed relief to many who have been victims of work accident in Florida only to be further victimized by the very laws that should protect them and not the profits of employers and insurance companies.

If you have been hurt on a job site or in a work-related accident, you should consult the aggressive Miami workers’ compensation attorneys at Payer & Associates.

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