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Key legal decision behind efforts to change Florida's comp system

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Two 2016 Florida Supreme Court cases are the main drivers of workers compensation reform proposals in the state.

In Marvin Castellanos v. Next Door Co. et al., the Florida Supreme Court ruled 5-2 that Florida’s mandatory attorney fee schedule was unconstitutional.

Marvin Castellanos was injured while employed by Miami-based Next Door Co. Through the assistance of an attorney, Mr. Castellanos received workers comp benefits. However, because Florida law limits a claimant’s ability to recover attorney fees to a sliding scale based on the amount of workers comp benefits obtained, the fee awarded to Mr. Castellanos’ attorney amounted to only $1.53 per hour for 107.2 hours of work, according to court documents.

The state Supreme Court decided that the attorney fee provision violated due process under state and federal law and impeded an injured worker’s ability to gain legal representation.

In Bradley Westphal v. City of St. Petersburg, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the state’s 104-week cap on temporary total disability benefits was unconstitutional.

The case was based on Bradley Westphal, who was a firefighter and paramedic for the city of St. Petersburg, Florida. In 2009, Mr. Westphal suffered back and knee injuries while fighting a fire.

Mr. Westphal was denied permanent total disability benefits when the 104-week cap on TTD benefits ended because his condition had not reached maximum medical improvement, according to court documents. Therefore, Mr. Westphal was left without comp benefits for a period of time.

The Florida Supreme Court ruled that the 104-week TTD time limit was unconstitutional because the “statute deprives a severely injured worker of disability benefits at a critical time,” according to court documents.