Florida Supreme Court Hears Arguments in Westphal v. City of St. Petersburg - A Significant Workers’ Compensation Case
On June 5, 2014, the Florida Supreme Court heard arguments in Westphal v.City of St. Petersburg, a case which could significantly affect the state's workers’ compensation law.
The case began when Plaintiff Bradley Westphal, a St. Petersburg firefighter who sustained compensable injuries to his back and knee while on the job, was denied permanent total disability benefits after the maximum time allowed for temporary disability benefits had passed. At the time, Westphal was still recovering from back surgery and, according to his physician, was completely unable to work. However, the judge denied permanent disability benefits since Westphal had not yet reached maximum medical improvement, and determining whether or not he would be permanently disabled would be speculative.
On appeal, the First District Court agreed with the judge’s determination, but found the law stipulating a 104-week limit on temporary benefits was unjust because it puts injured workers like Westphal in a no-win situation of being unable to receive temporary benefits, while also not being eligible for permanent benefits. The appeals court concluded the Florida statue which limited an injured worker to no more than 104 weeks of temporary disability benefits, even when he is totally disabled, was unconstitutional. Striking down the 1994 amendment to Florida’s workers’ compensation law that established the 104-week limit for temporary disability, the court re-established the previously existing 260-week limit.
The City of St. Petersburg then requested a rehearing, during which the appeals court changed course, saying it was unreasonable to assume the legislature meant to create a “statutory gap” when legislating the 104-week limit. Instead, the court re-interpreted the law to mean workers could apply for and receive permanent benefits at the end of the 104-week period because they are “deemed to be at maximum medical improvement as a matter of law,” even if they could one day return to work.
The issue of workers’ compensation eligibility is of great public importance, so the First District Court of Appeal certified the case for review. Exercising its discretionary jurisdiction in such matters, the Florida Supreme Court decided to hear the case, as requested by both Westphal and the City of St. Petersburg. Westphal is now asking the Supreme Court to reverse the First District’s interpretation of the limit on temporary disability benefits, or find Florida’s Workers’ Compensation Law unconstitutional because it is “not an adequate remedy in terms of access to courts and due process of law.”
The Workers’ Compensation attorneys at Lancaster & Eure have been closely following the Westphal case. We fight for maximum benefits for our clients and eagerly await the Florida Supreme Court’s decision on Florida’s Workers’ Compensation Law.