Limits of Workers’ Compensation

Before the creation of workers’ compensation laws, Florida employers unleashed an “unholy trinity” of legal defenses against injured workers filing personal injury claims. For example, if employees Alejandro and Barbara injured themselves when carrying a heavy sack of flour into their bakery, their employer could deny compensation on any of the following bases:

Contributory negligence: If Alejandro had watched where he was going, he wouldn’t have tripped on the curb, and he wouldn’t have dropped the flour. Thus, his injuries are 80% his fault, so by Florida’s comparative negligence statue, we only have to compensate for 20% of his injuries.

Assumption of risk: Alejandro and Barbara knew that a sack of flour that heavy could cause serious injuries if dropped. They chose to take the risk of picking it up and carrying it in, so they are responsible for their consequent injuries.

The fellow servant rule: Barbara’s injuries were Alejandro’s fault because he dropped the flour, so Barbara needs to sue Alejandro, not us.
On the other hand, injured workers attempted (sometimes successfully) to sue employers for amounts well beyond their lost wages and medical bills, bankrupting employers through punitive damages. Workers’ compensation came into existence as a compromise between the claims of injured employees and the defenses of employers.

With workers’ comp, employees receive reimbursement for medical expenses following their workplace injuries and some compensation for their lost wages. Employers (and their insurers) can’t blame employees or their coworkers for their injuries, but employees face tight limits regarding how much compensation they can receive.

There are several important limits on workers’ compensation. The first is a limit on how long the employee has to claim it, called the statue of limitations. In most cases, employees have 30 days after discovering their injury to report it to their employer, and two years to petition for workers’ comp benefits. After filing, Florida law limits how much compensation employees can receive for lost wages. The limit depends on whether the injury prevents the employee from working temporarily or permanently, as well as whether the injury prevents the employee from working partially or completely.

If the heavy sack of flour breaks Alejandro’s back, and the doctor tells him he’ll be completely out of work for a year while he recovers, he can expect 2/3 of his wages or $939/week [as of 2019], whichever is less, as compensation for his temporary total disability (TTD). He will also receive full reimbursement for his medical bills related to his broken back. Barbara was more fortunate; the flour only broke her leg. She won’t be able to resume her work as a baker for six months, but she can work as a cashier for half of her old wage. In addition to medical bill reimbursements, Barbara can expect 80% * (80% – 50%) = 24% of her old wages as workers’ compensation for her temporary partial disability (TPD). If either employee receives less workers’ compensation than they should, they will contact an experienced workers’ compensation legal group, like the Vickaryous Law Firm, for a free consultation.

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