• Florida Workers' Compensation Law Declared Unconstitutional
  • August 21, 2014
  • Law Firm: Colodny Fass P.A. - Fort Lauderdale Office
  • In an order issued yesterday, August 13, 2014, Miami Circuit Court Jorge E. Cueto concluded that Florida's workers' compensation law is facially unconstitutional, as long as it contains section 440.11, F.S. as an exclusive replacement remedy.

    In his ruling, Judge Cueto held that s. 440.11, F.S., the exclusive remedy provision of Florida's Workers' Compensation Act, is invalid because it violates the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution as well as the Access to Courts provision of Article 1, s. 21 of the Florida Constitution.  

    The law was amended in 1968 to make Florida's workers' compensation law the sole and exclusive remedy when an employee was injured in the workplace.

    Under current law, which was significantly amended again in 2003, injured workers do not have the option to sue their employers, but must seek benefits under Florida's workers' compensation system.

    In his ruling, Judge Cueto opined that these changes had diminished the benefits available to injured workers to such a degree that the system denied  them access to courts and therefore is no longer constitutional.

    Since the decision emanates from the Eleventh Circuit Court in Miami-Dade County, an appeal would be made to the Third District Court of Appeal ("Third DCA"), also in Miami-Dade.  The Third DCA could agree with Judge Cueto's decision or reverse it.

    If the Third DCA agrees with Judge Cueto's decision and declares s. 440.11 unconstitutional, the matter is required to be reviewed by the Florida Supreme Court.

    Alternatively, the Third DCA may pass on hearing the matter and send it directly to the Florida Supreme Court, if it finds this case to be one of great public importance.

    If Judge Cueto's decision is ultimately heard by the Florida Supreme Court, it will join the following three other pending workers' compensation-related cases:

    • Westphal v. City of St. Petersburg Risk Management-In this case, the question before the Florida Supreme Court is whether a worker who is totally disabled as a result of a workplace accident, but still improving from a medical standpoint at the time temporary disability benefits expire, is deemed to be at maximum medical improvement by operation of law and therefore eligible to assert a claim for permanent total disability benefits.

    • Morales v. Zenith Insurance Company-The issues in this case are whether workers' compensation benefits are the exclusive remedy for an employee injury caused by an employer's negligence, and if the workers' compensation exclusion in an employer liability policy bars coverage of an employee's tort judgment obtained in a separate negligence suit.

    • Castellanos v. Next Door Company/Amerisure Insurance-In this matter, the Florida Supreme Court must decide whether the award of attorneys' fees based upon the schedule in Florida's workers' compensation law is appropriate.