Unless you've recently been injured on the job, you probably haven't given much thought to your employer's workers compensation coverage or your state's workers compensation laws. However, those who are employed in Florida may see some changes in the way workers compensation benefits are determined if a current court case is successful in declaring a portion of the state's workers comp law unconstitutional. Read on to learn more about how workers compensation is handled in Florida, as well as the changes that may be coming pending the outcome of the constitutional challenge.
What protections are afforded to Florida workers who are injured on the job?
Each state has laws designed to help protect employees who suffer injury or contract an illness in the line of duty. Florida is no exception and requires all employers to purchase workers compensation insurance or face hefty fines and fees for noncompliance. Workers comp insurance helps cover an employee's medical expenses, lost wages, travel to and from the hospital or doctor's office, and a variety of other costs incurred as a result of most workplace injuries. In most cases, a workers comp policy will even come into play if the employee's injuries were partially caused by his or her own negligence. (On the other end of the spectrum, accepting workers compensation payments can prevent you from later filing a lawsuit against your employer for these injuries, even if your employer acted negligently or recklessly.)
Unfortunately, workers compensation laws don't apply to all injuries that take place on the job -- and if your employer deems an injury you've suffered to fall within one of the listed exceptions, you may find yourself without much recourse. For example, workers comp policies aren't required to pay out if it is determined that an injury was primarily (more than 50 percent) caused by non-work-related factors, even if the work-related accident took this injury from manageable to disabling. For those dealing with osteoarthritis, carpal tunnel, or other degenerative bone or joint issues, this can often mean the denial of coverage for injuries that worsened these conditions.
Other legal issues can arise when a workplace injury has a permanent disabling effect on the worker but is insufficient to lead to full disability. While workers comp can usually help employees bridge the gap between W2 wages and Social Security Disability (SSD) after being permanently disabled due to a workplace accident, benefits for partially disabled workers are harder to come by. In some cases, as long as you're deemed to be able to perform some work (albeit at a less than full-time level) you'll also be deemed healthy enough to cease receipt of workers comp benefits.
What will happen to these protections if Florida's workers comp law is deemed unconstitutional?
At least one individual who was denied workers comp coverage for a partial disability has filed a lawsuit questioning the constitutionality of Florida's workers comp law. If one or more provisions of this law are deemed to be unconstitutional, they'll be eliminated upon the court's decision. This could potentially lead to the reopening of a number of denied partial disability claims, imposing a hefty cost on workers comp insurers who had assumed these claims were resolved and an administrative burden on the courts in which these claims are litigated.
If you've recently been injured on the job in Florida, you'll want to consult an experienced workers compensation attorney who has remained abreast of the legal challenges posed to Florida's laws. Depending upon the facts of your case and the length of backlog in your local courts, there may be some strategic advantages to filing a claim immediately or holding off until the constitutionality issue is decided.
For more information on worker's compensation, contact a firm like Ransom, Gilbertson, Martin & Ratliff, L.L.P.