Countless times we have prepared witnesses to give sworn testimony. At the very outset we go over the basic rules: 1. Listen carefully to each question and make it is fully understood before answering; 2. Only answer the question asked. If that can be done with a simple yes or no, answer accordingly. If an explanation is required, be short and sweet with it. Do not jump onto a soapbox and give a speech; 3. Do not be a wise guy or hostile to the questioner. If, for whatever reason, the question is inappropriate the witness’ lawyer will make an objection, and, if necessary, instruct the witness not to answer (e.g., where attorney/client communications are involved); 4. BE TRUTHFUL!!!

On June 13, 2017, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions testified under oath before the Senate Intelligence Committee25 Times Jeff Sessions Had a Convenient Memory Lapse While Testifying. In our considered opinion, AG Sessions violated all of the above rules, especially #4.

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ny-worker-268x300Workers hurt on the job do not have an unlimited period of time in which to institute legal proceedings against employers and their insurance companies, herein collectively referred to as the “E/C,” to resolve disputes. Rights can be lost if not exercised timely.

Florida statute 440.19 allows for the filing of a petition for benefits — which is how legal proceedings are instituted under Florida’s workers’ compensation system — up to the greater of two 2 years after 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 or one year from the payment of any indemnity benefit or the furnishing of remedial care.

Under certain circumstances these SOL deadlines can be extended. For example, where the E/C, intentionally or otherwise, misleads the claimant as to his rights or the availability of workers’ compensation benefits with the result that the claimant fails to timely file his claim, the E/C will be estopped from asserting the statute of limitations as a defense. Boyd v. Florida Memorial College, 475 So.2d 990 (Fla. 1st DCA 1985); Foster Wheeler Energy Group v. Fairhurst, 405 So.2d 438 (Fla. 1st DCA 1981); Catalano v. Hillsborough County Board of Public Instruction, 249 So.2d 24 (Fla. 1971); Jenkins v. M.H. Harrison Construction Company, 228 So.2d 911 (Fla. 1969); Engle v. Deerborne School, 226 So.2d 681 (Fla. 1969); Howanitz v. Biscayne Electric, Inc., 139 So.2d 678 (Fla. 1962); Baptist Village v. Newton, IRC 2-3551 (1978), cert. denied, 368 So.2d 1362 (Fla. 1979).

The above examples are obvious. Other situations can be more subtle.

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Department-Brochure-WC-1-242x300Florida’s workers’ compensation statute of limitations is outlined in section 440.19, Florida Statues (2017). The statute is particular with regard to the requirements workers’ compensation insurance carriers must satisfy to prevail on the SOL defense. This blog points out an approach not addressed in the statute which is used by carriers to bar claims through the SOL defense.

Section 440.19 appears to condition its application on compliance with section 440.185, Florida Statutes. Section 440.185 subsection (3) provides as follows:

Within 3 days after the employer or the employee informs the carrier of an injury the carrier shall mail to the injured worker an informational brochure (italics added) approved by the department which sets forth in clear and understandable language an explanation of the rights, benefits, procedures for obtaining benefits and assistance, criminal penalties, and obligations of injured workers and their employers under the Florida Workers’ Compensation Law.

One could conclude from reading sections 440.19 and 440.185, that a carrier’s failure to mail the informational brochure would absolutely prevent the SOL defense. Such is not the case. (Here is a link to the approved brochure: Florida Department of Insurance. Page one addresses the workers’ compensation statute of limitations.)

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worker2-300x223Section 440.13(5)(e), Florida Statutes (2016) limits who may give medical opinions in Florida workers’ compensation cases.

(e) No medical opinion other than the opinion of a medical advisor appointed by the judge of compensation claims or the department, an independent medical examiner, or an authorized treating provider is admissible in proceedings before the judges of compensation claims.

The limitation tends to impair injured workers more than it does employers and their workers’ compensation insurance companies (collectively referred to as E/C). The reasons have to do with doctor selection and money.

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scales-of-justice-300x203Forty plus years of misleading Big Business propaganda has left the American public with the false impression that bringing a personal injury lawsuit comes without risk to the plaintiff. People have come to believe, sometimes with righteous indignation, that most lawsuits are frivolous and result in the recovery of undeserved compensation without any negative consequences for falling short of the mark.

The truth tells a different story.

From defense attorneys to trial judges to deeply cynical juries to courts of appeal and rules and statutes, Plaintiffs seeking their day in court with the simple aim of being made whole for being wronged face a host of hazards and hurdles enough to challenge the courage, strength, and fortitude of the toughest among us.

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cemetery1-300x200Liability insurance policies issued in Florida that provide coverage for personal injuries contain a per person/per occurrence provision. The provision declares the limits of coverage available under the policy.

The Florida Wrongful Death Act outlines who may be compensated for the wrongful death of a person caused by the intentional act or negligence of a third party. The Act refers to these individuals as “Survivors.” Section 768.18(1) Florida Statutes (2016). (Link to this page to see a “Survivors” chart.)

As the chart shows, there can be multiple Survivors in a single case. How does the per person/per incident provision apply to the situation involving more than one survivor?

In Jones v. Zagrodnik, Dean Jones was killed in a collision with a negligent Roger Zagrodnik. Zagrodnik was insured by Home Insurance under a $100,000 per person/$300,000 per occurrence policy. There were three “Survivors.” The Fifth District Court of Appeal limited their recovery to a total of $100,000, reasoning that their claims were derivative from the deceased and fell under the per person limit of the policy.

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scales-of-justice-300x203There is great strength in numbers. You realize that as an advocate for injured workers and a strong defender of civil justice in our state. This is the primary reason why the Florida Workers’ Advocates and the Florida Justice Association have joined forces to stand up for working people at the State Capitol and throughout Florida in a unified manner.

Whether the focus is on the manner in which rates are established or the denial of medical treatment and related benefits for injured workers, the overwhelming theme is that the workers’ compensation system has been skewed in favor of big business and the insurance industry for far too long. We have all represented individuals who have been harmed by this fractured system.

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fox-292x300NCCI is the only entity that proposes rate increases/decreases to the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation (OIR). It is a private company that does not owe a fiduciary responsibility to the state’s residents. NCCI does not divulge its methodology or source information, calling it “proprietary.”

In 2016, the workers’ compensation insurance industry sent marching orders to NCCI to make the case for a dramatic increase in premiums charged to business owners. The case was presented to the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation and resulted in a 14.5% rate hike.

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scales-of-justice-300x203Stung from being held accountable by the Florida Supreme Court, Associated Industries of Florida (a/k/a Enemy of the People), commanded by Tom Feeney, he of the 2000 Presidential Election coup, is proposing, on behalf of itself and other workers’ compensation insurance companies, to abolish carrier-paid attorney’s fees.

In Castellanos v. Next Door Company, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that workers’ compensation insurance companies that force injured workers to institute legal proceedings to secure benefits may, in some instances, be required to pay the Claimant’s attorney a reasonable fee. The fee is due only when the injured worker successfully secures wrongly denied benefits. The court described carrier-paid fees as a sensible method of motivating insurance companies to follow the law without the need for judicial involvement (See, Judges of Compensation Claims.) In the court’s view, the threat is the proverbial stick Claimants must have at their disposal to get carriers to comply with the state’s workers’ compensation laws. The ruling was not issued in a vacuum. A long historical record shows that it works.

Which is why it is opposed by Associated Industries. AI abhors the idea of workers being able to compete for benefits on a level playing field. Its legislative proposal looks to slant the field back in its favor — the Castellanos justices spoke at length about leveling the playing field.

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moses-224x300In Parsha Yitro (full text here in Hebrew and English), Jethro suggests to Moses, his son-in-law, that the Jewish people would be better served if he appointed a hierarchy of magistrates and judges to assist him in the task of governing and administering justice to the people. The advice was taken, establishing the framework for the form of civil jurisprudence practiced in America today, some 3300 years later.

In Florida, the administration of civil disputes is handled through a series of courts, each with varying degrees of authority and responsibility. Disputes involving $15,000 or less begin in the trial jurisdiction of county courts, while disputes in excess of $15,000 fall within the jurisdiction of the civil circuit trial court system. Appeals from decisions made in both court systems can sometimes be taken all of the way up to the Florida Supreme Court. In some rare instances, the Supreme Court of the United States will consider a state court case.

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