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  • Injured Workers Appeal Dismissal of Lawsuit Challenging Constitutionality of Workers’ Comp System to Florida Supreme Court

Injured Workers Appeal Dismissal of Lawsuit Challenging Constitutionality of Workers’ Comp System to Florida Supreme Court

The Florida Supreme Court is currently considering important issues regarding the workers’ compensation system. Two plaintiffs from two separate actions filed petitions on June 8, 2015, asking the Florida Supreme Court to reverse the appellate court’s dismissal of both cases, which occurred on June 24, 2015.

The dismissal of both cases arises from a 2014 case in which Florida Eleventh Circuit Court Judge Jorge Cueto ruled that the exclusivity doctrine of workers’ compensation law is unconstitutional, based on legislation passed in 2003 that reduced benefit amounts for injured employees. The exclusivity doctrine states that injured workers are eligible to receive benefits from their employers after suffering injuries, but they are barred from bringing a civil action against the employer based on the injury except in a few limited circumstances. 

The underlying facts of the case before Judge Cueto involved a claim by Julio Cortes against his employer, seeking compensation for injuries he sustained while operating equipment on the job. During 2012, a government employee who also sustained injuries at work and was forced to retire as a result joined in Cortes’ suit, along with several employee advocacy groups.

The defendant employer in Cortes’ suit, Velda Farms, voluntarily dismissed its affirmative defense to the action based on the exclusivity provision, and it alleged that any claims left in the litigation regarding workers’ compensation issues should be dismissed on the basis that they had become moot. The advocacy groups supporting the plaintiffs asked the court to continue the case independently.

Ruling in favor of the injured workers, Judge Cueto stated, “I find that the Florida Workers’ Compensation Act, as amended effective October 1, 2003, does not provide a reasonable alternative to the tort remedy it supplanted.” As a result, Judge Cueto refused to conclude that workers’ compensation benefits provided an exclusive remedy to the injured worker in the case. Instead, the Judge saw the cuts in wage-loss benefits and medical payments that lawmakers had made to the workers’ compensation system over the years as rendering the system insufficient to provide injured workers with a fair deal.

The state appealed the circuit court’s decision, and the matter was sent to the Third District Court of Appeal. On review, the Third District noted that the litigation had morphed during the three years since it had been commenced and that “the case lost (1) the essential elements of a justiciable ‘claim or controversy,’ (2) an identifiable and properly-joined defendant, and (3) a procedurally proper vehicle for the trial court’s assessment of the constitutionality. . .” Based on these procedural aspects, the Court of Appeal dismissed the case, leaving the constitutional challenges unaddressed.

The plaintiffs have now appealed the matter to the Florida Supreme Court.

If you have suffered injuries on the job, you may be entitled to benefits and compensation. The workers’ compensation system is incredibly complex and difficult to navigate. The last thing you should have to worry about during this already stressful and painful time is figuring out how to bring a claim and ensuring that it’s done properly. At The Hoffman Firm, our workers’ compensation lawyers have helped many South Florida employees bring a workers’ compensation claim and obtain the compensation they deserve for their injuries. Call us now at (800) 223-1866 or contact us online to set up your free consultation today.

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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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