Friday, November 17, 2017
News Roundup

Injured St. Pete firefighter wins workers compensation ruling

RECOMMENDED READING


TALLAHASSEE — In a battle about disability benefits for a seriously injured firefighter, a state appeals court has found part of Florida's workers compensation insurance system unconstitutional — saying it led to the man being left in a "legal twilight zone."

The ruling, issued Thursday by the 1st District Court of Appeal, struck down a law that placed a two-year limit on temporary disability benefits. That limit cut off disability payments in 2011 to St. Petersburg firefighter Bradley Westphal, who was unable to work because of injuries but also couldn't meet criteria to qualify for permanent disability benefits.

Judge Brad Thomas wrote in a 24-page opinion that the two-year limit on temporary benefits is inadequate in such situations and that there is "simply no public necessity, much less an overpowering one, that has been demonstrated to justify such a fundamentally unjust system of redress for injury."

"The natural consequence of such a system of legal redress is potential economic ruination of the injured worker, with all the terrible consequences that this portends for the worker and his or her family,'' wrote Thomas, who was joined by judges Marguerite Davis and Philip Padovano.

The workers-compensation system is designed to serve as a way to provide medical care and other benefits to injured people without going through lawsuits. Florida has highly complex workers-compensation laws that include different types of benefits and limits.

Westphal injured his back and a leg while on duty in December 2009, with the injuries causing nerve damage and requiring spinal surgery, according to the appeals court opinion. He received temporary total disability benefits for two years but could not be determined to have met what is known as "maximum medical improvement" — an important factor in qualifying for permanent total disability benefits.

As a result, Westphal's disability payments ran out in December 2011. His attorney, Jason Fox, said the city agreed in November 2012 that Westphal would get permanent disability benefits — and made them retroactive to September 2012 — but that left about a nine-month income gap.

Lawmakers approved the two-year limit on temporary total disability benefits in 1993. Under Thursday's ruling, the temporary benefits would be available for five years, the same amount of time as before the 1993 law took effect.

During oral arguments last month, Allen Winsor, an attorney for the state, defended the benefits limits and said they have to be viewed within the "broad picture" of the workers compensation insurance system. He said lawmakers approved the limits as a way to reduce costs at a time when businesses struggled to afford insurance.

"They found there was a critical need to reduce costs through enacting this very provision,'' Winsor told the judges.

But the ruling said the limits violated Westphal's constitutional "guarantee that justice will be administered without denial or delay." While the workers-compensation system is designed to head off civil lawsuits, the ruling said it has to provide a reasonable alternative to protect the legal rights of injured people.

"This system of redress (in Westphal's case) does not comport with any notion of natural justice, and its result is repugnant to fundamental fairness, because it relegates a severely injured worker to a legal twilight zone of economic and familial ruin,'' the opinion said.

The judges stopped short of addressing other parts of the workers compensation system, but attorneys who represent workers have long complained about steps the Legislature has taken to reduce insurance costs. Much of the debate has centered on 2003 changes that have led to an overall 56 percent drop in workers compensation insurance rates.

Fox, the attorney for Westphal, said Friday he expects to see more constitutional challenges to workers compensation laws, as he said the "pendulum has swung so far" to placing limits on benefits.

Comments
Thanksgiving sides beyond the classics: corn casserole, Brussels sprouts salad, pecan pie carrots

Thanksgiving sides beyond the classics: corn casserole, Brussels sprouts salad, pecan pie carrots

There are probably a handful of essentials, things you must have on the Thanksgiving table lest some family members begin to riot. But I find there are often a couple of slots open for new things, chances to get weird or creative or, gasp, healthy. ...
Updated: 12 minutes ago
Report: NFL investigating Jameis Winston for allegedly groping Uber driver

Report: NFL investigating Jameis Winston for allegedly groping Uber driver

The NFL is investigating Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston, according to BuzzFeed News.The report is based on a letter sent by the NFL this week to a female Uber driver, who is accusing Winston of grabbing her crotch in March 2016 in Sc...
Updated: 29 minutes ago
Tesla’s latest creation: An electric big rig that can travel 500 miles on a single charge

Tesla’s latest creation: An electric big rig that can travel 500 miles on a single charge

The Washington PostThe main course was expected: a pair of sleek silver Tesla semi-trucks that get 500 miles per charge, go from zero to 60 mph in five seconds and — if the hype is to be believed — promise to single-handedly transform the commercial ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Trigaux: State of Tampa Bay startups? Disconnected we falter but there’s a plan to fix that

Trigaux: State of Tampa Bay startups? Disconnected we falter but there’s a plan to fix that

How are we doing?That was the Big Question posed more than once this past week in Tampa Bay. First, the Tampa Bay Partnership and USF debuted in-depth and new ways to measure Tampa Bay across a wide range of indicators to gauge whether we are gaining...
Updated: 1 hour ago
We ask Tampa Bay startup leaders how best to advance entrepreneurial ecosystem

We ask Tampa Bay startup leaders how best to advance entrepreneurial ecosystem

What one thing could be added to the Tampa Bay startup community to help it grow and prosper?The Tampa Bay Times reached out to these leading area entrepreneurs and startup experts for answers.RELATED COVERAGE: Trigaux: State of Tampa Bay startups? D...
Updated: 2 hours ago
19 digital billboards now spread word of reward in Seminole Heights killings

19 digital billboards now spread word of reward in Seminole Heights killings

TAMPA — To help spread the word about reward money offered in connection with four unsolved shooting deaths in Seminole Heights, two billboard companies have donated the use of a combined 19 digital billboards.On Thursday, police announced the reward...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Top 5 at noon: New billboards tout Seminole Heights rewards; Christmas comes to downtown Tampa; and more

Top 5 at noon: New billboards tout Seminole Heights rewards; Christmas comes to downtown Tampa; and more

Here are the latest headlines and updates on tampabay.com:19 DIGITAL BILLBOARDS NOW SPREAD WORD OF REWARD IN SEMINOLE HEIGHTS KILLINGSTo help spread the word about reward money offered in connection with four unsolved shooting deaths in Seminole Heig...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Florida jobs recover from Irma, unemployment rate drops

Florida jobs recover from Irma, unemployment rate drops

The tough hit Florida jobs took from Hurricane Irma was not long lived, as predicted by economists. The state added 125,300 jobs in October, almost breaking even from the 127,400 job it lost in September. According to state figures released Friday, t...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Editorial: It’s time to renew community’s commitment to Tampa Theatre

Editorial: It’s time to renew community’s commitment to Tampa Theatre

New attention to downtown Tampa as a place to live, work and play is transforming the area at a dizzying pace. Credit goes to recent projects, both public and private, such as the Tampa River Walk, new residential towers, a University of South Florid...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Joe Henderson: Require coding in schools? How about pushing technical skills

Joe Henderson: Require coding in schools? How about pushing technical skills

As if public schools don’t have enough headaches, Apple CEO Tim Cook recently interjected himself into the debate about how best to train young minds.In an interview with French media outlet Konbini, Cook said, "I think coding should be required in e...
Updated: 3 hours ago