Articles Posted in Workers’ Compensation

scalesFlorida has five district courts of appeal. These courts are charged with reviewing rulings and outcomes arising in lower tribunals. Above these courts sits the Florida Supreme Court. This court reviews decisions issued by the five lower courts of appeal.

Cases reach the Florida Supreme Court in one or more of the following ways: (1) an opinion rendered by one appellate court conflicts with an opinion of one or more other appellate courts; (2) the opinion conflicts with a Supreme Court decision; (3) the appellate court decision declares a statute unconstitutional; or (4) the appellate court declares the question(s) before it to be of great public importance. By far, number (1) is the most common method.

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The first sentence of §440.34(1) Florida Statutes advises that every attorney’s fee worker2received by a Florida workers’ compensation claimant’s attorney must be approved by a judge of compensation claims (JCC). This is the case whether the fee is paid by the claimant, an employer, or a workers’ compensation insurance company. A violation of the law is a crime. Florida Statute 440.34 outlines the main types and amounts of fees available to claimants attorneys. (Statutes 440.105440.32(1)&(2), and 57.105 describe fees available as sanctions.) While fees in personal injury cases typically range from 33-1/3%-40%, the allowed percentage in workers’ compensation case is significantly less. Here is the basic formula:

Any attorney’s fee approved by a judge of compensation claims for benefits secured on behalf of a claimant must equal to 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.

§440.34(1) Florida Statutes. Continue reading

dollars.jpgMaximizing the client’s net recovery should be a primary focus in every case. Court costs, litigation and medical expenses, and insurance liens are elements often charged against the gross recovery.

One of the insurance liens is a creature of Florida Statute 440.39(2). This lien comes into play when a person injured in the course and scope of employment receives both workers’ compensation benefits and compensation from a third-party tortfeasor. 440.39(2) provides that a portion of the proceeds received from the tortfeasor must be reimbursed to the employer or its workers’ compensation insurance company.
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dollars.jpgSome of Florida’s most severely injured workers may qualify for Permanent Total Disability (PTD) benefits under Section 440.15(1) Florida Statutes. In the absence of a catastrophic injury such as a spinal cord injury involving severe paralysis, amputation of an arm, a hand, a foot, or a leg, severe brain or closed-head injury, or total or industrial blindness, the qualifying standard is that the injured employee is not capable of engaging in at least sedentary employment within a 50-mile radius of the employee’s residence. (The Florida Legislature, under the control of Jeb Bush, changed the PTD standard from “light duty” to “sedentary employment.” This significant difference keeps many severely injured, deserving workers from qualifying for PTD.)
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Our firm has been hired by a woman who recently sustained a serious leg injury while walking back to her car from a company sponsored holiday party. The employer has refused to provide workers’ compensation benefits, claiming that the accident did not happen in the course and scope of employment.

While our firm handles both workers’ compensation and premises liability cases, we have agreed to pursue a premises liability action against the employer. (The accident happened on its property.) We believe that the employer and possibly others are responsible for creating an accident-causing dangerous condition.
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law books.jpgInjured workers who qualify for workers’ compensation permanent total disability benefits (PTD) under Florida Statue 440.15(1), receive 66-2/3% of their average weekly wage (AWW) payable biweekly. Such injured workers may also qualify for Social Security Disability (SSD) monetary benefits payable monthly.

The sum of the two benefits may exceed 100% of an injured worker’s AWW. Is the injured worker allowed to receive more than his AWW? It depends.
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doctor.jpgA Judge of Compensation Claims (JCC) recently denied our firm a stipulated carrier-paid attorney’s fee under the so-called medical-only section of Florida Statute 440.34. The judge rejected the stipulation because a claim for Permanent Total Disability (440.15(1)) was pending when we filed a claim for psychiatric care. The judge misread the statute.

440.34(3)(a) provides as follows:

(3) If any party should prevail in any proceedings before a judge of compensation claims or court, there shall be taxed against the nonprevailing party the reasonable costs of such proceedings, not to include attorney’s fees. A claimant is responsible for the payment of her or his own attorney’s fees, except that a claimant is entitled to recover an attorney’s fee in an amount equal to the amount provided for in subsection (1) or subsection (7) from a carrier or employer:

(a) Against whom she or he successfully asserts a petition for medical benefits only, if the claimant has not filed or is not entitled to file at such time a claim for disability, permanent impairment, wage-loss, or death benefits, arising out of the same accident.

The judge relied on the words, “has not filed,” without considering the qualifying language, “at such time.”
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Since at least 2002, when Jeb Bush and a super-majority of Republicans passed legislation eliminating important workers’ rights, Florida’s workers’ compensation system has been unfair and unbalanced. One circuit court judge has declared it unconstitutional — Florida’s Workers’ Compensation System Unconstitutional, So Says 11th Circuit Court Judge Jorge Cueto.

The time is approaching when the Florida Supreme Court may agree with Judge Cueto.
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Once again Pam Bondi, Florida’s Teabagging Attorney General, has decided to waste the taxpayer’s money on another anti-decency crusade. Consistent with her opposition to Gay marriage, government in the Sunshine, the Affordable Care Act, and medical marijuana, the twice-divorced Attorney General has chosen to appeal the August 13, 2014 ruling of 11th Circuit Court Judge Jorge Cueto declaring Florida’s workers’ compensation system in violation of both the Florida and U.S. constitutions as no longer providing a “reasonable alternative” to the tort system for workers seeking recompense for job related injuries. See this blog: Florida’s Workers’ Compensation System Unconstitutional, So Says 11th Circuit Court Judge Jorge Cueto.
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moses.jpgIn 1935, Florida first enacted a workers’ compensation system for the state’s employers and employees. The idea was to provide a greater degree of fairness and certainty for each. The primary advantage for employers was the immunity from most personal injury lawsuits, making it easier to anticipate expenses, while employees would receive benefits without first having to prove negligence against the employer. It was a model patterned on similar systems adopted in other states. Both sides gained, both sides lost, but the overall outcome was positive.

That is, until greed began to creep into the system. It didn’t take long.

Through legislative might, business interests soon began to whittle away at workers’ rights and benefits. From time to time, the courts slowed and reversed the erosion, but workers could do little in the long run to resist the rising tide of selfishness and greed.

Not surprisingly, the high mark of this tide of selfishness and greed came during Jeb Bush’s reign as Florida’s governor. Taking a page from his big brother George’s system in Texas, Jeb spearheaded efforts to gut Florida’s workers’ compensation system. 2002’s legislative session broke the system. Benefits were slashed and injured workers were denied the right to effective legal counsel.

Jeb received champagne toasts in boardrooms from Key West to northwest Florida. Mission Accomplished!
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