Articles Posted in Personal Injury

barricadeWhile a recent Florida Supreme Court decision has leveled the playing field for injured workers in workers’ compensation cases — read Jeffrey P. Gale, P.A. // Another Jeb Bush Law Bites the Dust — a better remedy can sometimes be achieved through the civil justice system under negligence law principles.

Florida Statute 440.11 immunizes most employers and fellow-employees from being sued for simple negligence, limiting the remedies available to injured workers to those outlined in Chapter 440, Florida Statutes, Florida’s body of workers’ compensation laws.

‘”[S]imple negligence is that course of conduct which a reasonable and prudent man would know might possibly result in injury to persons . . ..”‘ Carraway v. Revell, 116 So. 2d 16, 22 (Fla. 1959) (quoting Bridges v. Speer, 79 So. 2d 679, 682 (Fla. 1955)).

The two jurisprudential systems, negligence and workers’ compensation, provide very different remedies to injured victims. One of the main differences is that the workers’ compensation system does not compensate for pain and suffering, while the negligence system does. (No Compensation for Pain & Suffering Under Florida’s Workers’ Compensation System.)

Chapter 440 is a no fault system for providing benefits. It was designed to assure  “the quick and efficient delivery of disability and medical benefits to an injured worker.” § 440.015, Fla. Stat. (2009). Even so, its shortcomings are many. Read these blogs:

In spite of these drawbacks, Florida Statute 440.11 usually bars other options.
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worker2The day after Jeb Bush suspended his run for the Republican presidential nomination, I read a quote in the Miami Herald from a South Carolina voter expressing dismay because she believed Bush was a good man who cared about disabled people. My immediate thought was, this woman does not know Jeb Bush … or at least the Jeb Bush who governed the state of Florida for eight years from 1999 to 2007. As Florida’s governor his policies were anything but sympathetic to disabled people.

Clear examples of his uncaring policies are contained throughout Chapter 440 of Florida’s Statutes, the body of laws that govern the state’s workers’ compensation system. At every opportunity, Mr. Bush pushed to weaken the rights and protections afforded injured workers.

This blog focuses on one example, workers’ compensation immunity.

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dollarsPrice gouging for medical services is the scourge of personal injury cases. Hospitals are the worst offenders.

By ambulance from the accident scene to admissions for surgery, accident victims wind up in hospitals. The hospital charges are always staggering.

The charges are phony, having no relationship to either costs or value. Average pricing at Florida hospitals is a minimum of 500 percent of Medicare allowable amounts (which amounts to roughly three to four times more than hospitals negotiate as reasonable rates with commercial health insurers).

The gouging is especially problematic in personal injury cases for the uninsured and those with large deductibles or unpaid charges. Large outstanding balances can stand in the way of resolving cases involving low policy limits or of questionable value because of causation issues.

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unemployedThe 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) prohibits the employment of illegal aliens in the United States. See Hoffman Plastic Compounds, Inc. v. NLRB, 535 U.S. 137, 147, 122 S.Ct. 1275, 152 L.Ed.2d 271 (2002). To accomplish this goal, the IRCA requires employers to verify the identity and eligibility of all new hires by examining specified documents, including social security account number cards, before they commence work. See generally § 1324a(b); see also Hoffman, 535 U.S. 137 at 148, 122 S.Ct. 1275.

Workers lose wages for various reasons. In Hoffman, for example, the employee was wrongfully terminated for engaging in union activities. More frequently, wages are lost because of work related injuries.

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Florida’s workers’ compensation system was created, in 1935, with the goal of providing benefits to injured workers without the delay of haviworker2ng to prove the accident was caused by the employer’s negligence. In exchange for this no-fault system, employers were granted immunity from being liable for negligence.

The system, however, did not afford absolute immunity. There was a time when employees who were able to demonstrate that an employer engaged in conduct which is substantially certain to result in injury or death, could pursue a civil remedy. Turner v. PCR, Inc., 754 So. 2d 683 (Fla. 2000).

While difficult, overcoming workers’ compensation immunity by establishing  substantial certainty was within reach.

In 2003, Governor Jeb Bush and the Florida Legislature put the chance of overcoming workers’ compensation immunity out of reach. New measures, in the form of Florida Statute 440.11, were instituted to make overcoming employer immunity virtually impossible.

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law booksPersonal injury plaintiffs and defendants battle over past and future damages. One frequent battleground concerns the amount a plaintiff should be awarded for future medical expenses.

Not infrequently, plaintiffs have sources such as health insurance, workers’ compensation, PIP, Med Pay, Medicaid, and Medicare to cover some or all of their future medical expenses. Almost always, these sources pay less than the usual and customary rates charged by most medical providers. Moreover, by accepting payments from these sources, medical providers are barred, in most instances, from balance billing beyond a small copay.

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dollarsFlorida’s civil justice system allows accident victims to seek damages from those alleged to be at fault. Damages awardable fall into two broad categories: Economic and non-economic.

Economic damages include medical expenses (past and future), past lost income, and the loss of earning capacity in the future. In some instances, Florida law allows these economic damages to be offset, or reduced, by or to the amount the victim received from other sources for the same loss. See §786.76 Florida Statutes and Florida Standard Jury Instruction 501.8.

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stoolsFloridians, like residents in every state, are acutely aware “of the terrible toll taken, both in personal injuries and property damage, by drivers who mix alcohol and gasoline,” Ontiveros v. Borak, 136 Ariz. 500, 667 P.2d 200, 205 (1983). While many of the culprits receive their intoxicating fuel from bars and restaurants, the legal standard for holding establishments liable for vehicle crashes caused by their patrons is exceedingly high. §768.125 Florida Statutes, Florida’s Dram Shop statute, provides the standard:

Liability for injury or damage resulting from intoxication.A person who sells or furnishes alcoholic beverages to a person of lawful drinking age shall not thereby become liable for injury or damage caused by or resulting from the intoxication of such person, except that a person who willfully and unlawfully sells or furnishes alcoholic beverages to a person who is not of lawful drinking age or who knowingly serves a person habitually addicted to the use of any or all alcoholic beverages may become liable for injury or damage caused by or resulting from the intoxication of such minor or person.

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Collateral sources, such as health insurance, workers’ compensation, Med-Pay, Medicare, and Medicaid, which pay the medical expenses of an injured party maze1arising from a third party’s negligence acquire a subrogation or reimbursement right in payments made to the injured party by the third party. (In Florida, Personal Injury Protection (PIP) insurance is the main exception to the rule. It does not acquire subrogation rights.) Failing to honor the right can have serious consequences against both the injured party and his or her attorney.

There is little debate that payments made before a case is settled or judgment is entered are subject to the lien. Less certain is whether payments made post-settlement or -judgment for services incurred pre-settlement or -judgment are subject to the lien.

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pillsA pharmacy owes a customer a duty of reasonable care. Reasonable care is the degree of care that an ordinarily prudent pharmacist would exercise under the same or similar circumstances. Marjorie A. Shields, Annotation, Exemplary or Punitive Damages for Pharmacist’s Wrongful Conduct in Preparing or Dispensing Medical Prescription—Cases Not Under Consumer Product Safety Act, 109 A.L.R.5th 397, § 2 (2003); see Pittman v. Upjohn Co., 890 S.W.2d 425, 434 (Tenn. 1994) (stating pharmacists have duty to exercise standard of care required of pharmacy profession in same or similar communities); Schaerrer v. Stewart’s Plaza Pharmacy, Inc., 79 P.3d 922, 933 (Utah 2003) (reiterating that pharmacist has generally recognized duty to possess and exercise reasonable degree of skill, care, and knowledge that would be exercised by reasonably prudent pharmacist in same situation).

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