The U.S. Supreme Court has refused a review of a Florida case that challenge the state’s entire workers’ compensation system. That means the lower court’s ruling in Stahl v. Hialeah Hospital will stand.
The ruling was not wholly unexpected. Stahl was essentially an indictment of the entire workers’ compensation system in Florida. The case stems back to 2003, when plaintiff began working as a nurse at a mid-sized hospital and he suffered a work-related back injury. This occurred just a few months after state legislators had enacted a series of changes to the state’s workers’ compensation program. Two years after his injury, his physician determined that he had reached maximum medical improvement. Unfortunately, that rating – and his injury – was essentially career-ending because, being unable to lift above a certain weight, he could no longer be a nurse. He was then awarded just 12 weeks of impairment benefit income and $5,472 – for an injury that permanently locked him out of his field. Later, the workers’ compensation board determined plaintiff didn’t meet the definition for permanent total disability and his claim for those benefits were denied.
What he argued in his case was that this award of just $5,472 was not adequate for the injury he sustained. Therefore, it could not be the exclusive remedy plaintiff had as recourse. Florida, like so many other states, recognizes an exclusive remedy provision that prohibits injured workers from suing their employer for negligence in exchange for a system of no-fault benefits. However, those benefits are supposed to fairly compensate workers for their losses. It was supposed to be part of a “grand bargain,” but as workers’ compensation protections are being steadily whittled away, it’s more of a bargain for companies and more of a raw deal for workers.
Plaintiff’s attorney said he recognized the petition to the supreme court was “a long shot” because it would have required the court to examine the entire constitutionality of the state’s workers’ compensation system, which undoubtedly would have an effect on the workers’ compensation system in the country at-large. As the court is only working with eight justices at the moment, it has been conservative about the cases it takes on.
Defendants in the case say that eliminating workers’ compensation as an entire system would have done much more harm to workers than good.
But our work injury lawyers in Fort Lauderdale know there has been some good news this year in workers’ compensation cases. In April, there was the case of Castellanos v. Next Door Company. Here, the Florida Supreme Court held that the mandatory attorney fee schedule – which in some cases worked out to plaintiff lawyers receiving just a few dollars an hour – was unconstitutional because it violated workers’ due process rights under the state and federal constitution.
Then in June, the state supreme court took on the case of Westphal v. City of St. Petersburg. In that case, the court ruled that the 104-week limitation on temporary total disability benefits is not constitutional because it resulted in workers having limited access to the courts. The court ruled the previous 260-week limit in place prior to the 1994 change in the law should be reinstated.
Call Fort Lauderdale Injury Attorney Richard Ansara at (954) 761-4011. Serving Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.
U.S. Supreme Court Declines to Review Challenge to Florida Workers’ Comp System, Nov. 10, 2016, By Amy O’Connor, Insurance Journal
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