greedSome catastrophically injured Florida workers qualify for both workers’ compensation permanent total disability benefits (PTD) (F.S. 440.15(1)) and taxpayer funded Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits (42 U.S.C. s. 423).

The compensation rate for PTD is 66-2/3% of the claimant’s average weekly wage (AWW) (440.14) payable bi-weekly until age 75. SSD is paid monthly until converting to Social Security Retirement at full retirement age (age 66 if born after 1942, 67 if born after 1960).

With the exception of government employees, PTD is paid by the private employer or its workers’ compensation insurance company. SSD, a Federal program, is paid from taxpayer dollars.
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crushed vehicleBecause the vast majority of rear-end crashes are caused by the trailing driver, Florida decisional law places a presumption of fault on that driver. See generally Eppler v. Tarmac America, Inc., 752 So.2d 592, 594 (Fla. 2000) (explaining origins of rear-end presumption). However, the presumption is a rebuttable presumption. What this means is that the trailing driver is allowed the opportunity to present evidence of sufficient value to overcome the presumption, but failing this, the beneficiary of the presumption is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Birge v. Charron, 107 So.3d 350 (Fla. 2012) and Bodiford v. Rollins, So. 3d , 40 FLW D1844 (Fla. 5th DCA 8-7-2015) (as there was no evidence showing that plaintiff Rollins breached any legal duty or failed to use reasonable care, the trial court’s denial of plaintiff Rollins’ motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict was reversed.).

The “rear-end presumption has never been recognized as anything more than an evidentiary tool that facilitates a particular type of negligence case by filling an evidentiary void where the evidence is such that there is no relevant jury question on the issue of liability and causation,” Birge @ 361. It was “constructed by the law to give particular effect to a certain group of facts in the absence of further evidence.” Gulle v. Boggs, 174 So.2d 26, 28 (Fla.1965) and Clampitt v. D.J. Spencer Sales, 786 So.2d 570, 572-73 (Fla.2001) (same).

In Birge, the passenger of a trailing motorcycle that flipped over when its driver attempted to avoid a rear-end collision, sued the driver of the front vehicle for negligence. In spite of divergent fault evidence concerning the circumstances of the crash, the trial court entered summary judgment for the defendant based on the rear-end presumption. The trial judge ruled, as a matter of law, that the evidence did not rebut the presumption of negligence against the driver of the trailing motorcycle.

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client2Everyone has crossed through some sort of landscaped area to get from one public place to another. While few fall and hurt themselves, some are less fortunate. Florida courts have addressed the issue of fault for such accidents. Should the landowner be held accountable? Or is the standard, cross at your own peril?

The answer is, it depends.

One of the leading cases on the subject is Wolf v. Sam’s East, Inc., 132 So.3d 305 (Fla. 4th DCA 2014). While the court ruled for the property owner, its discussion shows how the outcome can go the other way under different circumstances.

“Generally, a property owner owes two duties to an invitee: (1) the duty to use reasonable care in maintaining the property in a reasonably safe condition; and (2) the duty to warn of latent or concealed dangers which are or should be known to the owner and which are unknown to the invitee and cannot be discovered through the exercise of due care.” Aaron v. Palatka Mall, L.L.C., 908 So.2d 574, 577 (Fla. 5th DCA 2005).

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accident-1307665Florida’s workers’ compensation statute of limitations, Section 440.19 Florida Statutes, is not the only time bar to bringing a workers’ compensation claim. Section 440.185(1) time bars a claim not reported to the employer “within 30 days after the date of or initial manifestation of the injury.” The statute contains four exceptions:

(a) The employer or the employer’s agent had actual knowledge of the injury;

(b) The cause of the injury could not be identified without a medical opinion and the employee advised the employer within 30 days after obtaining a medical opinion indicating that the injury arose out of and in the course of employment;

(c) The employer did not put its employees on notice of the requirements of this section by posting notice pursuant to s. 440.055; or

(d) Exceptional circumstances, outside the scope of paragraph (a) or paragraph (b) justify such failure.

Notice and Knowledge

Gregory v. Crum Staffing. The First District Court of Appeal ruled on the issues of reporting and actual knowledge. A supervisor witnessed the accident, heard the claimant say “something regarding an injury,” although not specifically about a shoulder injury, and knew he went to a doctor less than 30 days after the accident. The Judge of Compensation Claims (JCC) ruled against the claimant, concluding that the statute required “actual knowledge of the injury to be communicated . . . to the employer within thirty days.” The JCC’s decision was reversed on appeal. The 1st DCA decided that the reporting requirement of 440.185(1) was satisfied, observing that 440.185(1) does not contain an “actual knowledge” provision like the subsection (a) exception. The court did not stop there. It also held that the employer had “actual knowledge of the injury,” explaining as follows:

the notice required to satisfy the knowledge exception to the thirty-day rule need not detail every facet of the injury sustained. Rather, it is sufficient that the employer have notice of an injury. See Alfonso v. MacDinton’s Rest., 515 So. 2d 243 (Fla. 1st DCA 1987); see also Roseboom v. H.T. Constructors, Inc., 527 So. 2d 234 (Fla. 1st DCA 1988); Winter Park Mem’l Hosp. v. Brown, 452 So. 2d 116 (Fla. 1st DCA 1984).

Alfonso v. Mac Dinton’s Restaurant, 515 So.2d 243 (Fla. 1st DCA 1987). Employee slipped and fell on her buttocks. More than five weeks later she reported back pain to her employer for the first time. Later that day she was admitted to the hospital for a back injury. The back claim was denied for late reporting. At trial, one of her employers admitted hearing claimant exclaim from the freezer in which the injury occurred that she had hit her arm on the freezer’s rack. The employer further indicated that he asked claimant if she was all right and that she replied she thought so. The DCA held in favor of the claimant.

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clockThe key component of every statute of limitations is the triggering event which starts the running of the SOL clock. In Florida workers’ compensation cases, the event is “the date on which the employee knew or should have known that the injury or death arose out of work performed in the course and scope of employment.” Section 440.19(1) Florida Statutes. The SOL is two years from this event. (Chapter 95 of the Florida’s statutes addresses the statute of limitations applicable in other types of cases.)

While most workplace injuries arise from acute traumatic events, like falling from a scaffold, some develop over a spread of time from the cumulative effects of repetitive physical labor. A representative example of this is demonstrated by one of our recent cases involving a UPS driver who developed a bad back from lifting and moving boxes for sixteen years.

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caduceus-1219484-mEach Act covers a different set of workers. With exceptions, the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act, which is Federal law, applies to “any person engaged in maritime employment, including any longshoreman or other person engaged in longshoring operations, and any harbor-worker including a ship repairman, shipbuilder, and ship-breaker….” Section 902(3). One of the most important exceptions is for “a master or member of a crew of any vessel.” Section 902(3)(G). The rights of these individuals are governed by the Jones Act and Admiralty Law.

Florida’s workers’ compensation laws are contained in Chapter 440 of Florida’s Statutes. They govern the rights of almost every other type of worker employed in the state. Federal employees do not fall under Florida’s workers’ compensation system.

While the LHWCA and Florida’s Chapter 440 are strikingly similar in many respects, one significant difference involves physician selection. Under Section 907(b) of the LHWCA, “[t]he employee shall have the right to choose an attending physician….” In contrast, the employer/carrier selects the treating physicians in Florida’s system. Section 440.13 Florida Statutes.

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motorway nightNot a day goes by without someone telling us that he or she has “full coverage.”

Insurance companies authorized to sell vehicle insurance in Florida are required by law to offer a full range of coverage options under the standard policy. However, only two types of coverage, PIP and Property Damage (Liability), are required for the vehicle owner to register and lawfully operate the vehicle in Florida. Many people consider this “full coverage.”

The problem with this “full coverage” is that it falls short of insuring against every type of loss that can result from a vehicle crash. Moreover, it leaves the at-fault party at risk of having his or her driving privileges suspended. § 324.051(2)(a) Florida Statutes

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city-zone-945513-mIn response to a Complaint we recently filed involving a serious crash on Florida’s Turnpike, the Defendant asserted as an affirmative defense that our client, the Plaintiff, should not recover because she had the “last clear chance” to avoid the accident.

In the many personal injury cases our firm has handled, this is the first time we have had this doctrine asserted. We had to do legal research to understand, what, if anything, it meant in our case. What we learned is that the doctrine has not been applicable in Florida personal injury cases since 1973. Moreover, when it did apply years ago it was always used by Plaintiffs against Defendants, not by Defendants against Plaintiffs. Hence, the affirmative defense in our case is hogwash.

Prior to the Florida Supreme Court’s holding in Hoffman v. Jones, 280 So.2d 431 (Fla., 1973), Florida was a contributory negligence jurisdiction. Hoffman turned Florida into a comparative negligence (or fault) jurisdiction.

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Our firm has written exhaustively on topics related to Florida’s workers’ compensation system. One of the recurring themes has been the steady loss of rights those in the workplace have experienced over the past 20 years or so. Here is a link to a superb law review article which addresses the subject. It was written in 2015 by Viktorya Johnson, J.D. Candidate, Stetson University College of Law, 2016.

FLORIDA WORKERS’ COMPENSATION ACT: THE UNCONSTITUTIONAL EROSION OF THE QUID PRO QUO

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scales of justiceISSUE: Whether section 440.34 Florida Statutes, recently modified by the Florida Supreme Court in Castellanos v. Next Door Company, et al. (Fla., 2016), should be amended to eliminate insurance carrier-paid reasonable attorney’s fees.

DISCUSSION: In 2009, the Florida Legislature barred judges of workers’ compensation claims (JCC) from awarding reasonable carrier-paid hourly fees to the lawyers of injured workers who were successful in securing benefits for their clients. The legislature limited the allowable fee to the following statutory formula: 20 percent of the first $5,000 of the amount of the benefits secured, 15 percent of the next $5,000 of the amount of the benefits secured, 10 percent of the remaining amount of the benefits secured to be provided during the first 10 years after the date the claim is filed, and 5 percent of the benefits secured after 10 years. Section 440.34(1) Florida Statutes.

Because most of the day-to-day workers’ compensation benefits are of low value, the attorney’s fee under the statutory formula for the successful prosecution of a claim for such benefits is correspondingly low. For example, the formula fee for securing the authorization of a $1,000 MRI is $200.

In Castellanos v. Next Door Company, et al. (Fla., 2016), the Florida Supreme Court declared unconstitutional, as a violation of due process under the Florida and United States constitutions, the provisions of 440.34 restricting fees to the statutory formula. The ruling allows workers’ compensation judges to award reasonable fees based on an hourly rate. After seven long years injured workers have a fighting chance to receive all benefits that are due and owing. Unfortunately, there are some individuals within the business community who seek to reverse the effects of the Castellanos ruling through legislative action.

The carrier-pays provisions of section 440.34(3) which open the door to the reasonable hourly rates are triggered by the following limited circumstances: (1) the successful prosecution of a medical-only claim; (2) the successful prosecution of a claim after the carrier has denied the benefit; or (3) the successful prosecution of a claim after the carrier has denied that an accident occurred.

Hence, whether a carrier ever becomes obligated to pay a reasonable hourly fee is a matter entirely within its control.

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