Workers’ Compensation Law After The Westphal Decision
Florida’s workers’ compensation system has been in flux for quite some time, ever since the 2013 decision in the case of Westphal v. City of St. Petersburg. In Westphal, a panel of the First District Court of Appeals held that Florida’s workers’ compensation statute was partially unconstitutional, at least where it pertained to the capping of temporary total disability benefits. While the issue has evolved since then, it is a confusing time to be a worker in need of the system. If you have been injured on the job, you need up-to-the-minute information so you can file your claim appropriately and know what to expect.
The Original Opinion
The Westphal case was originally settled by a three-judge panel of the First District Court of Appeals, and the initial opinion in February 2013 stated explicitly that the state’s cap of 104 weeks in which a worker could receive temporary total disability benefits was unconstitutional. In Westphal, the plaintiff was a fireman and paramedic, and during the course of his employment, became temporarily disabled. However, his benefits expired at a point when he had not reached maximum medical improvement and could not return to work.
Westphal fell into what the opinion refers to as a statutory gap, as he could not return to work, but he was ineligible for permanent total disability benefits. The original Westphal opinion stated that this could not “comport with any legal or natural notion of justice,” as it left him with no income through no fault of his own. Reviewing comparable regulations in other states, the opinion found that the strong majority of jurisdictions allow temporary total disability benefits for up to 312 weeks, which is three times the amount allowed to Florida workers. With all these factors in evidence, the three-judge panel held that the specific part of Florida’s workers’ compensation statute that dealt with the issue was unconstitutional, expanding benefits to 260 weeks.
Approximately six months after the panel’s decision in Westphal, the entire First Circuit issued an en banc decision (that is, a decision involving the entire circuit instead of merely a panel) that explicitly walked back February’s opinion, holding that instead of overturning the state’s workers’ compensation statute, that the language of the law should be interpreted in a different way – generally, to allow workers who have not reached maximum medical improvement, like Mr. Westphal, to qualify for permanent total disability benefits once their temporary total benefits expire.
In 2016, the Supreme Court issued an opinion agreeing with parts of both the panel and en banc opinions, holding that while the entire workers’ compensation system statute is not unconstitutional, the limitation on temporary total disability benefits was. The 260 week limit was upheld by the Supreme Court, and the case was remanded to the First District Court of Appeals for further hearing on the issue. However, upon another appeal, it has reached the Supreme Court again. As of this writing, the 260-week limit is still in force, meaning if you are receiving temporary total disability benefits, they will not cease until 260 weeks have passed or you reach maximum medical improvement.
Call An Orlando Workers Compensation Attorney
While currently the longer limit is in force, it can still be easy to get bogged down in details of the workers’ compensation system without experienced assistance. The Orlando workers’ compensation lawyers at the Hornsby Law Group can sit down with you and try to assist you with any questions you might have about pursuing your claim. Contact our office today for a free consultation.