Florida Workers’ Compensation – The Claimant’s Standard of Proof

scales of justice.jpgIn its infinite, albeit, less than perfect wisdom, American jurisprudence places on the party asserting a claim the burden of proving the claim. In criminal and civil cases, the proponent must, to use a sports analogy, outscore the opponent in order to win. A tie or less is never a victory but often a defeat. The standard in Florida workers’ compensation cases may be an exception to the rule.

Everyone is familiar with the standard of proof in criminal cases. For a defendant to be convicted, the prosecution must prove the defendant’s guilt beyond and to the exclusion of any reasonable doubt. In college football terms, this is the equivalent of a 63-10 pasting.

This is an extremely high standard, as well it should be.

The burden of proof is not nearly as high In civil cases (e.g, personal injury; medical malpractice; premises liability). Nevertheless, the proponent (i.e., Plaintiff; Claimant; Petitioner) maintains the burden of presenting evidence that tips the scale in his or her favor, i.e., the weight of the evidence must favor the proponent by at least 51%. The standard is described in Florida Standard Jury Instruction 401.3 GREATER WEIGHT OF THE EVIDENCE as follows:

“Greater weight of the evidence” means the more persuasive and convincing force and effect of the entire evidence in the case.

Instead of a 63-10 shellacking, a last second field goal for a 1 point victory will do the job.

In theory, at least, workers’ compensation Claimants (i.e., the proponents) can win without outscoring or even tying their opponents, the employers and their workers’ compensation insurance companies. The workers’ compensation standard has been described as follows:

“an employee is only required to present, by competent, substantial evidence, a state of facts from which it may be found, consonant with logic and reason, that an injury was sustained during the course of and arising out of the employee’s employment.” Schafrath v. Marco Bay Resort, Ltd., 608 So. 2d 97, 102 (Fla 1st DCA 1992) (Citing Johnson v. Koffee Kettle Restaurant, 125 So.2d 297, 299 (Fla. 1960) and Jones v. Citrus Central, Inc., 537 So.2d 1123, 1125-26 (Fla. 1st DCA 1989).)

(The underpinnings for this standard is that the Workers’ Compensation Act (Chapter 440 of the Florida Statutes) creates a self-executing, non-adversarial system designed to function without the intervention of legal representatives by placing on the employer and carrier the burden to “assure the quick and efficient delivery of disability and medical benefits to an injured worker at a reasonable cost to the employer.” Schafrath at 103.)

The language in Schafrath suggests that Claimants who present logical and sensible evidence are supposed to win, even if the opponent presents a more compelling defense. This may, in fact, be the standard. However, our practice in representing Claimants is to present a more compelling case, at least by a preponderance of the evidence, in order to carry the day. We always want our evidence to be more logical and sensible than the Employer/Carriers’.

CAVEAT: Do not confuse the burden of proof standards discussed here with the standards concerning the admissability of expert testimony, which, for the most part, requires expert testimony to be ‘based on a reasonable degree of certainty.’

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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.