Florida Workers’ Comp System in Jeopardy

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Judge rules “exclusive remedy” provision unconstitutional

By Tom Murphy

In a recent ruling, Judge Jorge E. Cueto of Florida’s Eleventh Judicial Circuit Court ruled (in Florida Workers’ Advocates v. State of Florida) that the state’s workers’ compensation “exclusive remedy” provision is unconstitutional. Judge Cueto indicated that the workers’ compensation reforms of 2003 have “decimated” comp benefits and “no longer provide a reasonable alternative” to allowing workers to sue in civil court.

The exclusive remedy provision of the workers’ compensation law in Florida mandates that workers’ comp is the only way an injured employee can be compensated for their injuries. Civil-liability lawsuits are typically not allowed to proceed unless gross negligence or fraud can be proved against the employer. Workers’ compensation was established as a no-fault system to provide benefits to injured workers while at the same time protect the employer from civil lawsuits that can take years to litigate.

As indicated in my previous articles, the State of Florida has seen a 56% decrease in workers’ compensation premiums as a direct result of the 2003 legislative reforms. Most experts agree that after a lengthy period of reform during which rates have declined, you tend to have court cases and decisions that roll back some of those reforms and we eventually start to see premium rise as a result.

Private employers will be watching this case closely, as it will ultimately be decided by the Florida Supreme Court. As we have seen recently with the barrage of lawsuits against the personal injury protection (PIP) reforms, the workers’ comp system will experience the same attempts to overturn the reforms that have helped to stabilize the workers’ comp system in Florida.