Stahl v. Hialeah Hospital – Florida Supreme Court to Weigh Exclusive Remedy in Workers’ Comp. Case

When a person suffers a work-related injury in Florida, the only action they can take against an employer is to pursue benefits through the workers’ compensation system. Although third-party actions are not affected, this limitation on lawsuits against employers is known as the “exclusive remedy provision.” It isn’t unique to Florida, but many states are watching our court system as the Florida Supreme Court has agreed to take on the issue in the case of Stahl v. Hialeah Hospital. worker3

In this appeal from Florida’s First District Court of Appeal, plaintiff alleges the state workers’ compensation is inadequate to provide assistance for long-term injuries since a 2003 reform scrapped permanent partial disability coverage.

Worker in this case was injured two months after those reforms went into effect. According to court records, plaintiff worked as a nurse when he suffered a compensable injury to his lower back.

He received coverage of medical expenses and partial disability benefits until the fall of 2005. At that time, his treating physician assigned him a 7 percent disability rating. He filed a petition with the Florida Office of the Judges of Compensation Claims, which was later voluntarily dismissed. He then filed a lawsuit against the hospital, claiming negligence in causing his injury due to insufficient staffing. Recognizing that Florida law restricts legal action against employers, plaintiff questioned the constitutionality of a system that bars collection of permanent partial disability, per F.S. 440.15(3).

In other jurisdictions, permanent partial disability benefits are granted to those who may not be totally disabled, but have some form of lasting impairment that may limit their capability to return to their previous job or duties.

Trial court denied the claim, and the appeals court affirmed, writing that requiring medical benefits copay for injured workers was in line with the goal of providing reasonable medical costs when a person reaches maximum medical improvement and that permanent partial disability benefits were supplanted by impairment income benefits.

This impairment rating allows for a monetary benefit equal to 75 percent of one’s weekly temporary total disability benefit for a set amount of weeks based on the percentage of impairment. The schedule is as follows:

  • 1- 10 percent impairment: 2 weeks for each percentage point
  • 11 – 15 percent impairment: 3 weeks for each percentage point
  • 16 to 20 percent impairment: 4 weeks for each percentage point
  • 21 to 99 percent impairment: 6 weeks for each percentage point

There is a 104-week cap on temporary benefits. That provision is being challenged by another case pending before the Florida Supreme Court, Westphal v. City of St. Petersburg. Yet another workers’ compensation case, Castellanos v. Next Door Co. et al., challenges the statutory caps on attorneys who represent victims of work injury, arguing they systematically prevent most workers from being able to obtain compensation by forcing attorneys in some cases to accept what amounts to minimum wage compensation – or less.

The National Council on Compensation Insurance has argued this kind of action could be detrimental to all workers because it could increase workers’ compensation rates for everyone. However, that assertion sets aside the fact that without adequate representation, the workers who truly need coverage are less likely to get it. Plus, if companies and insurers know they are less likely to be held accountable for industrial accidents, there is less motivation to improve workplace safety, which in turn results in more work-related injuries.

If you have been injured in an accident, contact the Hollander Law Firm at 888-751-7777 for a free and confidential consultation. There is no fee unless we win.

Additional Resources:

Suit challenges ‘core’ of Florida’s workers comp system, Nov. 12, 2015, By Stephanie Goldberg, Business Insurance

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