Contractor Focus - Florida Workers’ Comp Statute Declared Unconstitutional

Contractor Focus - Florida Workers’ Comp Statute Declared Unconstitutional

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Published August 22, 2014   •   1 minute read

A court in Miami-Dade County, Florida found Section 440.11 of Florida's Workers' Compensation Act unconstitutional, ruling that it does not provide adequate medical care for injured workers or dollars to replace lost wages. Section 440.11 makes the Act the “exclusive” remedy available to injured Florida workers and their families for injuries or death incurred on the job.

The court held that under US Supreme Court precedent, workers’ comp benefits must be “significant” if they are the only remedy available to the worker. Additionally, under a Florida Supreme Court ruling, Florida workers have a “fundamental right” to workers’ compensation benefits, meaning that statutes which impinge or discriminate on those benefits are subject to strict scrutiny under the 14th Amendment equal protection and due process clauses. In other words, because the Florida Constitution says workers’ comp benefits are a fundamental right, the legislature is not allowed to tinker with those rights without strict scrutiny and review from the courts.

The court reasoned that in 1968 when Florida enacted the Workers’ Comp act, making it the exclusive remedy for workers and their families, the act provided a total of 12 years possible benefits available to injured workers or deceased workers’ estates. However by 2003 that had been reduced to only 2 years worth of total possible benefits, along with some other impairment benefits available through the State and little else.

The court held that the 2003 law last modifying the Workers’ Compensation Act was unconstitutional as an exclusive remedy because it "is no longer an adequate exclusive replacement remedy in place of common law tort as required by the 14th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution or by the Florida Constitution." 

The decision will likely be appealed, but has immediate short-term impact for employers and additional insureds currently operating in Florida.

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