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A Florida appeals court recommended Friday that state legislators revisit a statute forcing injured employees to pay an employer’s legal expense when the employee does not prevail in litigating for workers compensation benefits in good faith.
Florida’s 1st District Court of Appeal said in its ruling in the case of Gina Frederick v. Monroe County School Board and Gallagher Bassett that “the statute imposes a chilling effect on future employees with meritorious claims.”
Given the statute’s existence, however, the court said it was “constrained to affirm” a workers comp judge’s imposition of nearly $12,000 in costs on Ms. Frederick.
The ruling shows that it is undisputed that the claimant in the case was injured while at work and she petitioned for permanent total disability benefits based on her authorized treating physician’s opinion that she could not return to work.
But due to a conflict in medical opinions, an expert medical adviser was appointed to the case and opined that Ms. Frederick was not permanently and totally disabled.
The claimant eventually filed for a voluntary dismissal of her claim and the employer sought to recover $16,000 in litigation costs.
Ms. Frederick then filed a motion arguing that given her good faith basis for filing for benefits, forcing her to pay the employer’s costs would deprive her of her right to access the courts. She also claimed that she remained out of work and had no means to pay the costs.
The employer argued that its right to prevailing-party costs was established by statute, and that good faith is not considered by the statute. The claimant ultimately was ordered to pay $11,834.35 in costs to her employer.
The order was legally correct but could cause future employees with meritorious claims to forego seeking benefits for fear of incurring costs, the appeals court said.
“Thus, we respectfully recommend that the Legislature consider whether an employee who files a petition for benefits in good faith should be subject to the imposition of costs,” the court said.