“Decimated.” That is the word the Honorable Circuit Court Judge Jorge Cueto used to describe what’s left of Florida’s Workers’ Compensation Act after a series of reforms, notably in 2003, which attacked injured workers’ rights and benefits. After 2003 Florida became one of the most restrictive workers’ compensation jurisdictions in the nation. As it currently exists, Florida’s Workers’ Compensation Act does not provide any benefits for permanent partial disability and medical benefits are very limited.
There is a delicate compromise between employees and employers. Employees give up potential negligence claims against their employer (including damages for pain and suffering) in exchange for access to medical care and disability benefits. Employers thereby avoid lawsuits and are protected from claims by their employees under what’s called the “exclusive remedy” defense. This is the essential trade-off of any workers’ compensation act.
So what happens when you take away almost all of the employee’s rights through legislative reforms every year? Well, according to Judge Cueto, employers lose their immunity for civil lawsuits by employees. As a result, employers may now be vulnerable to lawsuits from their employees for work-related accidents where the employer was negligent, and seek damages, including pain and suffering, from their employer.
It will be interesting to watch developments in Florida as they unfold. However, it should also serve as a reminder about consequences of stripping away injured workers’ benefits under delicately balanced workers’ compensation acts in the future.