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State judge rules Florida Workers' Compensation Act unconstitutional

State judge rules Florida Workers' Compensation Act unconstitutional

The Florida Workers' Compensation Act no longer provides adequate benefits to injured workers and is therefore unconstitutional, a Miami-Dade County, Florida, judge has ruled.

Elsa Padgett, a Miami-Dade County government office worker, sustained injuries when she tripped over boxes that were left on the floor in January 2012, according to reports. After undergoing shoulder replacement surgery, Ms. Padgett, who was at retirement age, was still in so much pain that she was forced to retire, reports state.

Due to the exclusive remedy provision of Florida Workers' Compensation Act, workers are only able to seek benefits under the workers comp system. Workers can only sue their employers in certain instances — for example, if an employer deliberately intended to injure an employee, according to the provision.

On Wednesday, 11th Circuit Court Judge Jorge E. Cueto ruled that Florida's Workers' Compensation Act is “facially unconstitutional as long as it contains Section 440.11 as an exclusive replacement remedy.”

The exclusive remedy provision “is no longer an adequate exclusive replacement remedy in place of common law tort,” the ruling states.

While the act may have been a reasonable alternative to tort litigation 40 years ago, “the benefits in the Act have been so decimated since then,” according to the ruling, “that it no longer provides a reasonable alternative” to civil court.

“The Act is the most intrusive way to compensate citizens for injuries on the job by taking away access to courts and removing the inviolate right to trial by jury.”

The ruling also states that a workers compensation act should provide some level of permanent partial disability benefit, which is absent from the Florida Workers' Compensation Act as a result of the 2003 workers comp reforms.

For these reasons, the ruling states that the Act is “unlawful, invalid and unconstitutional.”

“At this point it's a lower court opinion … and there's a good chance someone will appeal it,” said Lori Lovgren, Boca Raton, Florida-based state relations executive for the National Council on Compensation Insurance Inc., a nationwide workers comp ratings and research organization that analyzes the cost of proposed legislation regarding workers comp regulations and benefits. “So at this point we're just holding and not pricing (Florida) because we need to see if it will be a final decision or not.”

Ms. Padgett's case isn't the only one challenging the constitutionality of the Florida Workers' Compensation Act.

The state Supreme Court is considering an appeal from a firefighter and paramedic that sustained back and knee injuries in the course of his employment, court records show. The worker was denied permanent total disability benefits under Florida's workers compensation law after his 104 weeks of temporary total disability benefits expired, according to records.

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