Major Piece of Florida Worker’s Comp Law Ruled Unconstitutional: Court Expands Acess to Disability for Seriously Injured Workers

The Florida Supreme Court recently ruled that a significant piece of the state’s worker’s compensation law is unconstitutional. The result of the ruling could result in longer and greater benefits for workers who become disabled or are incapable of working after an accident.

The 5-2 court decision in the case of Westphal v. the City of St. Petersburg determined that disability benefits could not be arbitrarily cut off after 104 weeks or approximately two years. The ruling struck down the part of the worker’s compensation law from 1994 that said receiving temporary total disability benefits for an injured worker stop after 104 weeks even if the worker is not yet eligible for permanent disability benefits. The court instead, resurrected the prior 260-week limit. In our practice we have seen too many clients exhaust their benefits while undergoing multiple surgeries before it could be determined whether they could go back to work.

The case came from a December 2009 incident when St. Pete firefighter Bradley Westphal was severely injured from lifting heavy furniture while fighting a fire.

The court’s ruling said that the law, as it was written, leaves workers like Westphal who are not yet legally entitled to file a claim for permanent total disability in an untenable position. As a result of the ruling, injured workers like Westphal can now continue to receive necessary temporary benefits while the permanent disability issues are resolved.

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