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Five-year limit on workers comp benefits to older workers upheld by Fla. court

Five-year limit on workers comp benefits to older workers upheld by Fla. court

TALLAHASSEE, Fla.—A law that limits workers compensation benefits to five years when an injured employee is 70 or older when a workplace accident occurs is constitutional, a Florida appeals court has ruled.

The case of Mollie Berman vs. Dillard's and ESIS concerns a 2004 accident that occurred when the claimant was 72. Ms. Berman began receiving permanent total disability benefits at age 74, the opinion shows.

Then in 2011, her employer suspended Ms. Berman's benefits, stating that her entitlement to them had ended. A workers comp judge found that because Ms. Berman was older than 70 when she was injured and that she had already received five years of benefits that her entitlement to them was exhausted under Florida law.

On appeal, Ms. Berman contended that the cessation of her benefits amounted to age discrimination and violated her right of access to courts. She argued, therefore, that her claim is subject to a “strict scrutiny standard of review.”

However, Florida's 1st District Court of Appeal disagreed last week, saying that Florida's Supreme Court has stated that a “rational basis” test is the proper standard of review as opposed to an elevated standard of review.

Age limitations may survive a constitutional challenge if they pass the rational basis test, meaning the age classifications are reasonably related to a permissible governmental objective, the appellate court said.

The legislature may set such limitations when it authorizes a reasonable alternative for the redress of injuries, as is the case under Florida's workers comp system, the appellate court said.

The court affirmed the workers comp judge's ruling.