In August, Judge Jorge Cueto, Circuit Court Judge in Dade County, Florida, ruled that the changes to the Florida Workers’ Compensation statutes that took effect October 1, 2003, violated the Florida Constitution and the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution. Judge Cueto argued that such an “exclusive remedy” provision of the statute violated an injured employee’s right to trial by jury if he or she took advantage of workers’ comp benefits.
The Florida Court’s opinion may now permit an injured employee to sue his or her employer for negligence even if benefits were received under the Workers’ Compensation system. This ruling, along with other litigation taking aim at workers’ compensation reforms could eventually cause higher compensation premiums for employers in Florida.
According to Judge Cueto, the old law does not provide adequate medical care or finances to help replenish lost wages due to injury. The Legislature found a significant need for the amendment to deal with sky-high insurance and health care costs.
These exclusive remedy rules make workers’ compensation the only way to recover money for an employee’s injuries. Liability lawsuits are usually only permitted in cases of gross negligence by an employer.
While the Florida Workers’ Compensation Law itself may initially have given appropriate benefits to the employee to permit the legislature to take the right away to trial by jury, the amendments made over the years – particularly the one that went into effect on October 1, 2003 – resulted in unconstitutional and inadequate statutory benefits for employees.
Florida’s workers’ compensation law has been controversial for years as a result of the reforms from 2003 that capped lawyer fees, as well as the 1994 reform package, which limited temporary total disability benefits to 104 weeks. These restrictions have helped lower workers’ compensation costs for employers in the state. In fact, Florida has seen a 56% decrease in workers’ compensation prices since the 2003 reforms.
The workers’ comp law is now becoming progressively eye-catching as lawyers are increasingly asking judges to banish the law for good.
How Will This Ruling Affect Employers?
Should the appeal fail to overturn Judge Cueto’s ruling, the likelihood of an exorbitant number of negligence lawsuits filed by injured employees against their employers is high. Since there is a four-year statute of limitations applicable to legal actions regarding negligence in Florida, there could be situations of workers’ compensation claimants dealing with their workers’ compensation claims, then taking legal action against their employer.
In addition, employers might see similar cases challenging exclusive remedy provisions in other states where injured employees believe that workers’ compensation reforms have taken too many benefits away.
The statute is currently being reviewed, but no specific timetable for when a decision might be made has been given.
Small business owners could potentially find themselves in increased positions of litigation for a number of reasons, including errors in payroll and benefits, as well as workers’ comp lawsuits from employees who blame their employer for placing them in a position of physical risk.
Talk to the Experts in Workers’ Comp and Compliance Issues
The good news is, professional employer organizations (PEO) that are well-versed in the realm of payroll, workers’ comp, and all other fields of HR can help to protect small business owners from such litigation. A good PEO will identify and manage potential risks, which may not necessarily be covered by a workers’ comp policy. Such outsourced PEOs are readily available to small business owners to help deal with scenarios, such as the changes to the Florida Workers’ Compensation statutes.
SourceOne Partners can help you find a reputable PEO to help ensure compliance with workers’ compensation laws, Occupational Safety & Health Administration guidelines, benefits, tax laws, and so forth. We have over 50 years in the PEO and payroll industries, and we pride ourselves on impeccable customer service. Call 561-674-0748 or contact us online online for a complimentary PEO or payroll quote today.