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Sunday, August 31, 2014

Florida exclusive remedy ruling may upend workers compensation system

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Injured workers in Florida might be able to receive both workers compensation benefits and civil liability damages should an appeal filed last week by the Florida attorney general’s office fail to overturn a ruling that declared the state’s exclusive remedy provision unconstitutional.

That and other litigation challenging workers comp reforms eventually could result in higher comp premiums for employers in the state, experts say.

In the most recent ruling, Judge Jorge E. Cueto of Florida’s 11th Judicial Circuit Court ruled last month in Florida Workers’ Advocates v. State of Florida that the state’s workers comp exclusive remedy is unconstitutional because workers comp reforms have “decimated” comp benefits and “no longer (provide) a reasonable alternative” to allowing workers to sue in civil court.

Exclusive remedy rules in Florida, and in most other states, make workers comp the sole way to recover money for their injuries. Liability lawsuits typically are allowed only in the case of gross negligence by an employer.


What’s more, employers could see similar cases challenging workers comp laws and exclusive remedy provisions in other states where injured workers feel that workers comp reforms have stripped them of too many benefits, said Charles Davoli, Baton Rouge, Louisiana-based president of the Workers’ Injury Law & Advocacy Group, which is a plaintiff in the Miami-Dade County case.

“Workers comp systems, which are a century old, are in crisis,” Mr. Davoli said. The Miami-Dade case “is what I would term the tip of the (workers comp) ‘deform’ iceberg,” he said, citing states such as Montana and Georgia as ones that could see legal challenges to limits on workers comp benefits.
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