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Workers comp constitutionality challenge dismissed

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A Florida appeals court on Wednesday overturned a controversial decision by a state circuit court judge that questioned the constitutionality of the state’s workers compensation system.

A three-judge panel from Florida’s 3rd District Court of Appeal ruled in favor of the appellants in the much-watched case, The State of Florida v. Florida Workers’ Advocates et al.

In their unanimous ruling, the judges said that Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Jorge Cueto’s August 2014 ruling, in which he declared the state’s workers compensation system unconstitutional because changes made to it mean it no longer provides “an adequate exclusive replacement remedy” in place of common-law torts, was moot because the plaintiffs in the case lacked standing.

The plaintiffs in that case, which included advocacy groups Florida Workers’ Advocates and the Workers’ Injury Law and Advocacy Group, as well as a Miami-Dade County employee injured on the job, intervened as additional plaintiffs in the 2011 case of an injured farmworker, Julio Cortes.

The appellate judges said that considering the withdrawal of Mr. Cortes and his employer, Velda Farms L.L.C., from the case, the intervenors lacked standing to challenge the constitutionality of section 440.11 of the Florida’s workers compensation statute, which establishes workers compensation as exclusive remedy and immunizes employers from lawsuits regarding work-related injuries.

“The initial claims and parties in this case at its inception in 2011 were transformed by the present appellants and their counsel into a completely different set of claims and parties over the three years which followed,” the ruling states. “In the process, the case lost the essential elements of a justiciable ‘case or controversy,’ an identifiable and properly joined defendant, and a procedurally proper vehicle for the trial court’s assessment of the constitutionality of section 440.11.”

However, while dismissing this case, the judges made clear they were not ruling on the constitutionality of exclusive remedy.

“Because we find the issues dispositive, we decline to review the trial court’s analysis of the appellees’ state and federal constitutional claims,” the ruling states.