worker2-300x223For the most part, workers’ compensation insurance companies limit their payment of medical expenses to conditions caused by work-related accidents. In some instances, however, carriers may be required to cover expenses for unrelated conditions. The primary instances are when (1) diagnostic testing is required to determine the compensability of an injury, (2) an unrelated condition presents a hindrance to the recovery of a compensable medical condition, and (3) controlling an unrelated condition, like high blood pressure, is necessary to allow the claimant to undergo a related procedure, like surgery.

Both principles are grounded on section 440.13(1)(k), Florida Statutes, which provides:

“Medically necessary” or “medical necessity” means any medical service or medical supply which is used to identify or treat an illness or injury, is appropriate to the patient’s diagnosis and status of recovery, and is consistent with the location of service, the level of care provided, and applicable practice parameters. The service should be widely accepted among practicing health care providers, based on scientific criteria, and determined to be reasonably safe. The service must not be of an experimental, investigative, or research nature.

Treatment to determine whether an injury is compensable

Laxner v. Target Corporation, 41 So.3d 396 (Fla. 1st DCA 2010). To establish entitlement to medical treatment, care, and modalities that have an investigatory or diagnostic purpose, workers’ compensation law does not require claimant to prove the major contributing cause of the need for treatment or diagnostic testing is her workplace accident or injury; rather, the award of such medical care is dependent on a finding that the evaluation is reasonably required to determine the cause and extent of claimant’s injuries.

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dwc-19-235x300By demonstrating that particular physical restrictions are responsible for lost wages or lack of employment, an employee with functional limitations less than a total disability may be eligible for temporary partial disability benefits (TPD) pursuant to section 440.15(4), Florida Statutes.

The claims-handling entity may impose a further burden by requiring the injured employee to complete, sign, and return Form DFS-F2-DWC-19 within 21 days after receiving it to report all earnings of any nature, including all social security benefits.

In Perdue v. Sebring Marine Ind. Inc., 82 So.3d 816 (Fla. 1st DCA 2011), reh. den. Sept. 3, 2011, the Judge of Compensation Claims (JCC) denied TPD benefits to the claimant on the basis that the injured employee did not submit a DWC-19 Employee Earnings Report in the claim. However, there was no evidence that the employer/carrier had provided the forms to the claimant. The First DCA reversed the JCC’s ruling, holding that the employer/carrier has the burden to prove it sent the forms to the claimant.

scales-of-justice-300x203Under Florida law, only individuals meeting the definition of “Survivors” under Florida’s Wrongful Death Act may be compensated for losses resulting from the death of another person. (See this blog, Florida Wrongful Death Survivors Chart, for a handy reference to benefits available under the Act.)

Under section 768.18(1) of the Act, survivors are defined as: 

the decedent’s spouse, children, parents, and, when partly or wholly dependent on the decedent for support or services, any blood relatives and adoptive brothers and sisters. It includes the child born out of wedlock of a mother, but not the child born out of wedlock of the father unless the father has recognized a responsibility for the child’s support.

In January 2011, Richard Wiederhold was immediately rendered a quadriplegic in a motor vehicle crash. One month later he sued Domino’s Pizza as being responsible for the crash. Several months later he married his girlfriend. In March 2012, Mr. Wiederhold died, and his now-wife, Mrs. Wiederhold, as personal representative of his estate, was substituted as the plaintiff. She then filed an amended complaint to include a claim for wrongful death damages as Mr. Wiederhold’s surviving spouse.

Mrs. Wiederhold received a favorable jury verdict. Domino’s appealed, arguing that because Mrs. Wiederhold was not married to Mr. Wiederhold at the time of the accident, she was not a surviving spouse under the Act.

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mri-image-brain-241x300The current definition of “attendant care,” which is not significantly different than in past versions of the statute, is as follows:

Florida Statute 440.13(1)(b). “Attendant care” means care rendered by trained professional attendants which is beyond the scope of household duties. Family members may provide nonprofessional attendant care, but may not be compensated under this chapter for care that falls within the scope of household duties and other services normally and gratuitously provided by family members. 

At the outset, it should be noted that the Claimant has the burden of proving the quantity, quality, and duration of the attendant care. See Adams Bldg. Materials, Inc., v. Brooks, 892 So.2d 527, 530 (Fla. 1st DCA 2004) (citing Orange Cnty. Sheriff’s Dep’t v. Perez, 541 So.2d 652, 654 (Fla. 1st DCA 1989) (holding claimant has burden to prove “the quantity, quality and duration of attendant services claimed”)).

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ATV-300x200Uninsured/Underinsured motor vehicle insurance (UM/UIM) – Florida Statute 627.727 — covers losses covered by bodily injury liability insurance (BI) but not available because the at-fault party did not maintain BI (UM) or the BI limit is insufficient to cover the full extent of the damages (UIM).

Subsection (2) of the UM/UIM statute provides that “[t]he limits of uninsured motorist coverage shall be not less than the limits of bodily injury liability insurance purchased by the named insured.” The typical application of this provision involves dollars: the UM policy limit must be the same amount as the BI policy limit. E.g., if the BI policy limit is $100,000, the UM/UIM limit must be $100,000.

In Amica Mutual Insurance Company v. Willis, Fla: Dist. Court of Appeals, 2nd Dist. 2018 (Opinion filed January 17, 2018), the court considered the same statutory provision in the context of a different scenario. Appellee Willis was injured by an uninsured golf cart. She sought coverage under her UM policy. The BI section of the policy provided liability coverage for damages resulting from an accident involving this type of motor vehicle, while the UM section excluded coverage. Relying on the UM exclusion, the insurance company denied coverage.

worker-225x300Florida Statute 440.02(1), which is contained in the definitions section of Florida’s workers’ compensation system, defines “Accident” as “an unexpected or unusual event or result that happens suddenly.” Can an injury resulting from an event that is not unexpected or unusual be compensable under Florida’s workers’ compensation system? Yes.

In Bryant v. David Lawrence Mental Health Center, 672 So.2d 629 (Fla. 1st DCA 1996), the Employee/Claimant, who was employed as a housekeeper at a mental health facility, squatted to lift a bag of laundry off the floor of the laundry room and felt immediate pain in her right knee. She sustained a tear of the lateral meniscus in that knee.

Because squatting is not an unexpected or unusual event, the Employer/Carrier denied the claim, and it was able to get the judge of workers’ compensation claims (JCC) to agree with its position that “her [the Claimant’s] injury was idiopathic and did not arise out of the claimant’s employment because her employment did not expose her to any greater risk than she experiences in her everyday life and to which the population as a whole is exposed.” (Miriam-Webster defines idiopathic as an injury “arising spontaneously or from an obscure or unknown case.”)

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clock-300x200Florida’s workers’ compensation system has two distinct time bars for filing petitions to seek benefits. Most people are at least vaguely aware of one of the concepts, known as the statute of limitations (SOL). Florida’s workers’ compensation SOL is enunciated in section 440.19, Florida Statutes.

The other time bar is laid out in Florida Statute 440.185(1), reproduced below:

(1) An employee who suffers an injury arising out of and in the course of employment shall advise his or her employer of the injury within 30 days after the date of or initial manifestation of the injury. Failure to so advise the employer shall bar a petition under this chapter unless:

(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.

This blog addresses subsection (d).

The statute is often interpreted strictly to the detriment of the injured worker. Accordingly, while there is some room for challenge built into every subsection of the statute, it is nevertheless advisable to err on the side of caution by giving notice [to the employer] whenever practicable within 30 days of  having even the slightest indication a work-related injury may have been sustained.

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caduceus-1219484-m-212x300Individuals receiving Florida workers’ compensation benefits for serious medical conditions must give deep thought and consideration to the role of Medicare in their future medical plans. This is especially so for those who are eligible or soon to be eligible for Medicare.

Because workers’ compensation has primary responsibility [for covering medical care associated with work-related injuries] versus Medicare’s secondary payor status, failing to adequately account for Medicare’s imperatives may keep the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), a branch of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the federal agency that runs the Medicare Programfrom covering much needed future care and services.

Most Florida workers’ compensation cases end up settling. The settlement can take the form of a lump sum (all at once) payment or a structured settlement (which may also include a lump sum component). In consideration for this compensation, claimants must typically forego the right to receive future workers’ compensation medical benefits.

Given its status as a secondary payor, Medicare expects a portion of the lump sum and structured settlement money to be used by the claimant to cover the cost of medical care received in the future in connection with the work-related injuries. Until the amount, which should be pre-established by experts and approved by Medicare — in the absence of pre-approval, we try to get the workers’ compensation insurance carrier to agree to cover the difference between the informal earmarked amount and a later amount Medicare may claim is due — is exhausted and properly accounted for, Medicare will not undertake its role as a secondary payor, i.e., begin making payments for work-related injuries. For example, if $53,000 (a number we used in a recent settlement) were earmarked for this purpose, Medicare would not make any payments until the entire $53,000 (plus interest, if applicable) were exhausted on the claimant’s medical care (for Medicare covered services only — meaning that any money expended for non-covered services does not count against the set-aside amount that must be exhausted before Medicare pays penny one.) See, July 23, 2001 Medicare memo.

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Trump rants that “attorney client privilege is dead.” BS! I’m a lawyer and feel no less confident that as long as my clients and I keep our noses clean, our privileged communications will remain sacrosanct as always. Major hurdles had to be overcome for the federal judge to authorize the raid [in the Cohen matter]. Moreover, additional post-raid safeguards are in place to prevent unauthorized breaches of the privilege. The AC privilege is not absolute; it is not a license to advance or commit crimes. While the measures taken against Cohen are severe, they are not unfair [despite what the Whiner in Chief declares]. The rule of law has been followed to a T.

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Trump is a despicable pig. Period. Anyone who thinks otherwise is right there with him. Period. One day after Passover, the Festival of Liberation, and mere hours after attending church services on Easter Sunday, a supposed day of joy and compassion for Christians, this human smegma dashes all hope for tens of thousands of good and decent and defenseless young people by gleefully declaring in pathologically perverse tweets that DACA is dead.

doctor-267x300Nothing is more important to a workers’ compensation claimant than being under the care of a fair-minded doctor. Unfortunately, realizing this fundamental right under Florida’s workers’ compensation system can be elusive. This is because Florida law offers employers/workers’ compensation insurance companies (E/C) the opportunity to select all of the injured worker’s treating doctors, 440.13, Florida Statutes (2017), and most of these providers, knowing better than to bite the hand that feeds them, willingly render opinions favorable to carriers. Unwilling providers need not apply.

If the opportunity is properly exercised, the E/C can maintain control of the worker’s medical care throughout the duration of the case. The opportunity can be lost.

Section 440.13(f) requires carriers to give employees the opportunity for one change of physician during the course of treatment for any one accident. If the carrier fails to provide the change of physician within 5 days after the request is made in writing (which includes a Petition for Benefits, see Gadol v. Masoret Yehudit, Inc., 132 So.3d 939 (Fla. 1st DCA 939), and email), the employee may select the physician and such physician shall be considered authorized if the treatment being provided is compensable and medically necessary. 440.13(f) and Zekanovic v. American II, Corp., 208 So. 3d 851 (Fla. 1st DCA 2017).

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