April 16 is the big day for a group of workers seeking to at least partially overturn the state’s 2003 workers’ compensation reforms.
The primary issue in Stahl v. Hialeah Hospital is whether or not Florida’s workers’ compensation system is still a reasonable alternative to litigation. The case involves a nurse, Daniel Stahl, who was hurt at work and will never again be able to lift more than 10 pounds. But he did not qualify for permanent disability under the revised permanent total disability (PTD) standards; as a result, he received less than $6,000 in compensation for his career-ending injury. A large number of business and government groups, including the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies, the Florida Chamber of Commerce, and state Attorney General Pam Bondi, have all filed briefs urging the Supreme Court to deny Mr. Stahl’s claim.
Last year, the Supreme Court upheld the “exclusive remedy” provision in the workers’ compensation law; two other major cases are still working their way through the judicial system.
Workers’ Compensation Theory
This system was originally conceived in the early 20th century as a “grand bargain” between workers and management. At this time, there was little or no government oversight of working conditions and workers had little or no legal power to bargain with management. So, it is understandable that most workers jumped at the chance to have no-fault insurance that covered workplace injuries at the cost of giving up their rights to litigate in court, because such cases were almost impossible to win.
Today, most states have a workers’ compensation system that provides cash benefits for medical bills, lost wages, mileage, and other economic losses. To claim these benefits, the injured workers need only establish that they were hurt on the job. Such injury includes:
- Trauma injury, like a broken bone or head injury;
- Occupational disease, like repetitive stress disorder or joint pain; and
- Wrongful death.
Over the last several years, the amount of money in state trust funds has declined steadily, partly due to economic downturn and partly due to employer fraud. As a result, adjusters are more aggressive than ever in their attempts to deny reasonable compensation to injured workers, and it is important to have an equally-aggressive attorney to help ensure that you get a fair piece of a shrinking pie.
Florida has four classifications for injured workers, and the category makes a great deal of difference in terms of benefits available.
- Permanent Total Disability: The most severe injury category operates under special rules that are rather subjective.
- Permanent Partial Disability: Victims who have reached their maximum medical improvement (MMI) but are still partially disabled receive benefits based on a percentage of their disabilities.
- Temporary Total Disability: Injured workers who cannot perform all their job functions for less than six months may receive up to 80 percent pay.
- Temporary Partial Disability: Victims who must temporarily accept a lower-paying position while they recover are entitled to cash that fills in the gap.
The vast majority of workers’ compensation claims are settled out of court.
Contact an Experienced Attorney
To successfully navigate your case through the system, it is important to partner with an experienced Tampa workers’ compensation attorney.