Jeffrey P. Gale, P.A. // Employee’s Duty Under Florida’s Workers’ Compensation Law to Report Accident

accident-1307665Florida’s workers’ compensation statute of limitations, Section 440.19 Florida Statutes, is not the only time bar to bringing a workers’ compensation claim. Section 440.185(1) time bars a claim not reported to the employer “within 30 days after the date of or initial manifestation of the injury.” The statute contains four exceptions:

(a) The employer or the employer’s agent had actual knowledge of the injury;

(b) The cause of the injury could not be identified without a medical opinion and the employee advised the employer within 30 days after obtaining a medical opinion indicating that the injury arose out of and in the course of employment;

(c) The employer did not put its employees on notice of the requirements of this section by posting notice pursuant to s. 440.055; or

(d) Exceptional circumstances, outside the scope of paragraph (a) or paragraph (b) justify such failure.

Notice and Knowledge

Gregory v. Crum Staffing. The First District Court of Appeal ruled on the issues of reporting and actual knowledge. A supervisor witnessed the accident, heard the claimant say “something regarding an injury,” although not specifically about a shoulder injury, and knew he went to a doctor less than 30 days after the accident. The Judge of Compensation Claims (JCC) ruled against the claimant, concluding that the statute required “actual knowledge of the injury to be communicated . . . to the employer within thirty days.” The JCC’s decision was reversed on appeal. The 1st DCA decided that the reporting requirement of 440.185(1) was satisfied, observing that 440.185(1) does not contain an “actual knowledge” provision like the subsection (a) exception. The court did not stop there. It also held that the employer had “actual knowledge of the injury,” explaining as follows:

the notice required to satisfy the knowledge exception to the thirty-day rule need not detail every facet of the injury sustained. Rather, it is sufficient that the employer have notice of an injury. See Alfonso v. MacDinton’s Rest., 515 So. 2d 243 (Fla. 1st DCA 1987); see also Roseboom v. H.T. Constructors, Inc., 527 So. 2d 234 (Fla. 1st DCA 1988); Winter Park Mem’l Hosp. v. Brown, 452 So. 2d 116 (Fla. 1st DCA 1984).

Alfonso v. Mac Dinton’s Restaurant, 515 So.2d 243 (Fla. 1st DCA 1987). Employee slipped and fell on her buttocks. More than five weeks later she reported back pain to her employer for the first time. Later that day she was admitted to the hospital for a back injury. The back claim was denied for late reporting. At trial, one of her employers admitted hearing claimant exclaim from the freezer in which the injury occurred that she had hit her arm on the freezer’s rack. The employer further indicated that he asked claimant if she was all right and that she replied she thought so. The DCA held in favor of the claimant.

T.E. James Construction Co. v Hartley, 616 So.2d 548 (Fla. 1st DCA 1993). The claimant worked for a subcontractor on a construction site. Notice of the accident was given to the subcontractor. The case proceeded against the general contractor. Holding:

The claimant’s obligation to provide notice of injury in accordance with section 440.185(1), Florida Statutes, was satisfied by the notice to the subcontractor, from which legal notice may then be imputed to T.E. James as the statutory employer. See Jack Axelrod Construction Co. v. Holcomb, IRC Order 2-3220 (August 22, 1977).

Marion County v. Futch, 983 So.2d 689 (Fla. 1st DCA 2008). The JCC was reversed for excusing the claimant’s untimely filing by an erroneous application of a constructive knowledge analysis in making its determination. In shooting down constructive knowledge as satisfying the statute, the 1st DCA relied on Black’s Law Dictionary to define the term actual knowledge, contained in section 440.185(1)(a), as “direct and clear knowledge or knowledge of such information as would lead a reasonable person to inquire further.”

Need for a Medical Opinion to Identify the Cause (§ 440.185(1)(b))

Polk County Board of County Commissioners v. Ross. The JCC’s ruling in favor of the claimant, who brought a claim for Hepatitis C eight years after her employment ended, was affirmed on appeal. Holding:

We find competent substantial evidence in the record to support the JCC’s factual finding that the claimant gave timely notice because “there was no medical causation prior to the date [April 12, 2003] that Dr. Rothstein, an expert Hepatologist in this matter, that gave the claimant a clear and definitive opinion as to the cause and factors of her disease.”

Luedke v. Play Space Services, 971 So.2d 261 (Fla. 1st DCA 2008). On previous occasions involving similar pain, the claimant thought it was work-related. The JCC ruled against the claimant. In a 2-1 decision, the 1st DCA upheld the ruling. The dissent makes good points.

Employer’s Knowledge Imputed to Carrier

Section 440.41(1) Florida Statutes.

Repetitive Trauma – Triggering Date

Caceres v. Sedano’s Supermarkets, 138 So.3d 1224 (Fla. 1st DCA 2014). Because the date of injury in a case of repetitive trauma is generally deemed to be the last date of exposure to the trauma, see Rose v. Geico, 90 So.3d 886, 888 (Fla. 1st DCA 2012) (citing Troche v. Geico, 966 So.2d 460, 461 (Fla. 1st DCA 2007), the JCC was reversed on appeal for assuming that any report of injury more than thirty days after Claimant first had knowledge of his symptoms — i.e., the date of the initial manifestation — was too late.

Time for Notice in Cases of Occupational Disease

Section 440.151(6) Florida Statutes: “The time for notice of injury or death provided in s. 440.185(1) shall be extended in cases of occupational diseases to a period of 90 days.”

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