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Sheena Harrison

Opening round of briefs filed in Florida Westphal case

January 21, 2014 - 4:22pm


The first round of briefs has been filed with Florida's Supreme Court to consider whether a 104-week time limit on workers compensation temporary total disability benefits is constitutional.

In Bradley Westphal v. City of St. Petersburg et al., a split en banc Florida 1st District Court of Appeals found that the time limit should stand because workers comp claimants are eligible for permanent total disability payments once their TTD runs out.

The September decision reversed a unanimous panel ruling from that same appellate court in February 2013, which found that the time limit was unconsitutional because it left injured workers without recourse if their TTD benefits ran out before being declared eligible for PTD benefits.

The plaintiff in the case is a permanently disabled firefighter who received no disability payments for nine months after his TTD benefits lapsed. Mr. Westphal was denied benefits for that time period because his doctor testified that he had not yet reached maximum medical improvement when his TTD benefits ended, and therefore he could not determine if Mr. Westphal would be totally and permanently disabled, according to court records.

The earlier appellate court ruling granted Mr. Westphal back payment of up to 260 weeks of TTD benefits after finding that the 104-week limit was unconstitutional. The National Council on Compensation Insurance Inc. estimated that the previous ruling would have raised Florida's workers compensation costs by $65 million.

A brief was filed Jan. 15 on Mr. Westphal's behalf, and an amicus brief was filed Friday by the Washington-based Workers' Injury Law and Advocacy Group, which supports Mr. Westphal's case.

The workers injury group argues in its brief that Florida's TTD benefits under the 104-week time limit "are so inadequate that no reasonable person could advocate for them as an exclusive replacement remedy for tort litigation."

The city of St. Petersburg has until March 6 to file its brief on the merits of the Westphal case, according to court documents.

The high court also has granted a motion for an amicus brief to be filed by several insurance and trade groups, including the Florida Chamber of Commerce, the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, Publix Supermarkets, the American Insurance Association and the Florida Association of Self Insurance.

The Westphal case has been deemed "high profile" by the Florida Supreme Court. The trial docket and supporting documents can be found online here.