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Florida Appellate Court Rules on Psychiatric Disability in Workers’ Compensation Case

A Florida appeals court recently addressed the treatment of psychiatric disability in a workers’ compensation case. In School Board of Lee County v. Huben, an employee suffered an injury to her arm while she was at work and filed a workers’ compensation claim seeking benefits. The Judge of Compensation Claims presiding over the case initially classified the employee’s injury as involving temporary partial disabilities and temporary total disabilities, in addition to awarding other benefits. The JCC also made an adjustment to the employee’s weekly average wage by increasing it. 

Shortly after the JCC issued its decision, the employer appealed to the Florida First District Court of Appeal. The basis for the employer’s appeal was that the JCC erred in considering evidence of the independent medical examiner’s examination of the employee. The employee had offered this information in support of her case. The employer also contended that the employee’s benefits award for temporary partial disability should have been denied because the employee limited her income voluntarily. Third, the employer argued that the psychiatric injury claimed by the employee was not a valid basis for awarding a total disability award. Last, the employer challenged the JCC’s award of legal fees to the employee based on the weekly wage adjustment.

On review, the First District upheld the JCC’s ruling regarding the admission of the employee’s evidence containing information from the independent medical exam in support of the temporary partial disability benefits award. Regarding the employer’s last basis for appeal, the First District ruled that the challenge to the award of legal fees based on the adjusted weekly wage was not yet ripe.

Turning to the employer’s challenge to the award of benefits based on psychiatric injury, the First District began by stating that there was no dispute that the worker’s injury reached its “maximum medical improvement” during January 2014. During the initial phases of the case, the employee failed to provide any evidentiary support for her psychiatric injury until roughly six months later. According to the First District, the employee’s award of temporary total benefits was subject to Section 440.093(3) and its provisions.

In applying this statute, the First District used the plain language meaning, which provides a strict and specific deadline for awarding benefits for mental injuries. According to the court, this provision “starts a clock that stops six months” after the employee’s maximum medical improvement (“MMI”) happens. Since the employee’s MMI occurred on July 9, 2014, she was eligible to only receive temporary total disability benefits from the date she received an admissible medical opinion through the July 9, 2014 cutoff.

Accordingly, the JCC erred by issuing a temporary total disability award for a time period beyond this date, and the First District reversed the JCC’s order.

If you have suffered an injury while on the job, you may be entitled to benefits from your employer. Navigating the workers’ compensation system can be confusing and stressful, especially if you are coping with painful and debilitating injuries or worried about keeping your month-to-month expenses covered. At The Hoffman Firm, our team of workers’ compensation lawyers has helped many injured employees throughout South Florida bring a claim against their employer for workers’ compensation benefits. Call us today at (800) 223-1866 or contact us online to set up a free consultation now.

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Evan A. Hoffman

Evan A. Hoffman

Mr. Hoffman’s philosophy is "our knowledge and experience is your best defense." He has been a featured author on criminal law issues such as driving under the influence, domestic violence and illegal searches.

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