The Differences Between Florida Workers’ Compensation and Personal Injury Cases

As our law firm has an expertise in workers’ compensation and personal injury cases, we are frequently asked to explain to our clients and other lawyers the differences between the two. Although both types of cases involve bodily injuries, they have little else in common.

With rare exception (see Florida Statute 440.11), the remedies available against employers for job related accidents are controlled by Chapter 440 of the Florida Statutes, which is the body of law devoted to workers’ compensation cases. Personal injury cases are controlled by different statutes and case law. The differences are significant.

THE MAIN DIFFERENCES:

  • Negligence. As a legal concept, negligence is generally defined as conduct that is culpable because it falls short of what a reasonable person would do to protect another individual from foreseeable risks of harm. It is often difficult to prove negligence. Whereas proving negligence is not required in workers’ compensation cases, it is an essential element of every personal injury case except those involving strict liability.
  • Compensation for Pain and Suffering. Because workers’ compensation claimants are relieved of the heavy burden of having to prove negligence, the Florida Legislature, as a trade-off, does not allow them to be compensated for pain and suffering. In contrast, personal injury claimants can be compensated for pain and suffering. This difference is easily the most difficult concept for our workers’ compensation clients to understand. It is counter-intuitive. We spend a significant amount of time discussing this concept with all of our workers’ compensation clients.
  • Medical Benefits. Medical benefits are furnished to injured workers pursuant to the workers’ compensation system. It is a lousy system for injured workers (see this blog), with the biggest negative being that employers and their insurance carriers control the selection of all medical providers. By contrast, personal injury claimants do not have automatic medical benefits; claimants must fend for themselves in obtaining medical care. PIP (motor vehicle accidents), health insurance, and Medicare/Medicaid are the main sources sometimes available to cover the expense. It is more difficult for the uninsured. Arrangements can sometimes be made through the lawyer for the provision of medical care. In theory, the personal injury claimant is supposed to be compensated at the end of the case for past and future medical expenses.
  • Lost Wages. Like medical benefits, eligibility for workers’ compensation lost wages starts with the report of a work related accident. The benefit amount ranges from 66-2/3% to 80% of 80% of lost wages. Except for permanent total disability (PTD – 440.15(1)), a difficult standard to prove, the limit for the number of weeks of temporary disability benefits (i.e., prior to reaching maximum medical improvement) a claimant may receive is 104. Only a small percentage of claimants receive the full 104 weeks of benefits. The personal injury system for the payment of lost wages is significantly different. There is no built-in equivalent, like in workers’ compensation, for self-executing benefits to be paid. In some instances, PIP and private disability insurance fill the role, but often those benefits are not available or applicable. For the most part, it is not until the case is resolved that the personal injury claimant is compensated for lost wages past and future. The standards that apply for the determination and entitlement to lost wages also are different between workers’ compensation and personal injury cases.
  • Trial by Jury. Not available in workers’ compensation cases. Available upon request in personal injury cases.
  • Statute of Limitations. 2 years for workers’ compensation, 4 years for personal injury. (Be careful not to confuse the personal injury statute of limitations with the statutes of limitations applicable to wrongful death cases (2 years) and medical malpractice (2 years). Also, in personal injury cases against a governmental entity, although the statute of limitations is 4 years, a particular written statutory notice of claim must be given within 3 years. Finally, and of great importance, sometimes there are ways of extending a statute of limitations beyond the black-letter numbers given above. Accordingly, it is important to discuss these issues with an attorney before concluding that it is too late to pursue any legal claim based on a statute of limitations.)
  • Attorney Representation. Available in both types of case. We handle both type of cases on a contingent basis (no fees and costs payable by the client until we win the case), but, by law, the fee formulas are significantly different.

There are numerous other differences between workers’ compensation and personal injury cases, but these are the main ones. Needless to say, an experienced legal professional should be consulted to discuss all of these issues.

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Jeffrey P. Gale, P.A. is a South Florida based law firm committed to the judicial system and to representing and obtaining justice for individuals – the poor, the injured, the forgotten, the voiceless, the defenseless and the damned, and to protecting the rights of such people from corporate and government oppression. We do not represent government, corporations or large business interests.

Contact us at 866-785-GALE or by email to learn your legal rights.