Use Workers’ Compensation Case to Learn About Other Causes of Action (e.g., Personal Injury and Wrongful Termination)

law books.jpgSometimes workers are hurt in the course and scope of their employment by the negligence of third parties. Third parties in this context are entities other than those entitled to workers’ compensation immunity. Employers and some subcontractors are entitled to the immunity. Those that are not must pay damages in accordance with the personal injury laws, something quite different than the benefits prescribed by workers’ compensation.

Sometimes employees are harassed or terminated by employers for claiming workers’ compensation benefits. Chapter 440 does not protect employers against being sued for this type of violation. See Florida Statute 440.205. See, also, our blog, Survey of Florida’s Workers’ Compensation Wrongful Termination Law.

Sometimes workers’ compensation insurance companies and their adjusters engage in unconscionable conduct during the claims handling process. They are not immune from suit for this type of conduct. See Aguilera v. Inservices, Inc., 905 So. 2d 84 (Fla. 2005).

When our office suspects that any one of these violations has occurred, we sometimes use the discovery procedures available in workers’ compensation cases as a vehicle to learn about the potential other causes.

Discovery is allowed in workers’ compensation cases in accordance with the Florida Rules of Civil Procedure and the Rules of Procedure for Workers’ Compensation Cases. Depositions and requests for documents are allowed in WC cases. Interrogatories and requests for admissions are not. Much can be learned through depositions and document productions.

Workers’ compensation employers/carriers have the right to be reimbursed by injured workers from money recovered from third parties. For this reason, they have an interest and a duty to cooperate with injured workers. The duty is imposed by Section 440.39(7) Florida Statutes. A failure to cooperate could lead to a reduction in how much the E/C must be reimbursed. Formal discovery is a good way of forcing the E/C’s cooperation.

With regard to wrongful termination and unconscionable claims handling cases, discovery through the WC case can be especially useful when the employer and the carrier do not suspect that you are considering pursuing other claims against them.

Discovery through WC cases is no substitute for discovery in the case in chief. However, it can be a useful and entirely ethical way of getting a head start on your adversaries.
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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.