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TALLAHASSEE, Fla.—A Florida judge erred when he awarded “temporary” permanent total disability benefits to an injured worker who had not reached maximum medical improvement, a Florida appellate court ruled Tuesday in an 8-6 en banc decision.
Shawn Hadley worked for Matrix Employee Leasing Inc. when he injured his leg in January 2007, according to court records. He underwent various surgeries, and a treating physician said Mr. Hadley likely will need more surgery before reaching maximum medical improvement.
Mr. Hadley received 104 weeks of temporary total disability benefits, which is the maximum TTD benefit in Florida, and began receiving impairment benefits from Matrix after his TTD claim had been exhausted. Mr. Hadley then filed for PTD benefits in January 2009 because his treating physician, Dr. Farid Hakim, deemed him unable to work, pending further treatment for his leg injury.
A compensation claims judge granted PTD benefits to Mr. Hadley, even though he noted that Florida's workers comp law does not include “temporary permanent total disability benefits.”
“The Legislature did not intend to leave a claimant such as Mr. Hadley out in the cold with no basis for indemnity benefits when that worker is totally disabled for more than 104 weeks,” the judge said in his decision.
Florida's 1st District Court of Appeal reversed that decision. In the split decision, the majority said Mr. Hadley would have needed to prove that his permanent disability would continue after reaching maximum medical improvement.
Dr. Hakim testified that he expects Mr. Hadley to have 10% to 15% impairment after he recovers, and that he “most probably” will be able to return to light duty work at that time.
The ruling acknowledged that Florida’s workers comp law could cause benefits to lapse for some workers comp claimants.
“We do not have the authority to rewrite the statutes to eliminate the potential ‘gap’ in disability benefits; that remedy lies with the Legislature, not the courts,” the ruling reads.
In a dissenting opinion, Judge Philip Padovano argued that state law allows claimants to be deemed at maximum medical improvement when their TTD benefits are exhausted, “regardless of any potential for improvement.”
He also said the majority opinion’s interpretation could mean an “indefinite” gap in disability benefits for some workers who are totally disabled.
“A disabled worker who reaches maximum medical improvement relatively quickly is fully compensated. But a disabled worker who is told that he or she may be well enough to return to work someday may have no compensation at all beyond the initial 104-week period,” Judge Padovano wrote. “I do not think that the Legislature intended to create such a disparity.”