Sunday, April 22, 2018
News Roundup

Injured St. Pete firefighter wins workers compensation ruling

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
How Baker Mayfield can benefit the Bucs

How Baker Mayfield can benefit the Bucs

TAMPA — The buzz surrounding this year's NFL draft is a class of talented quarterbacks deep enough to challenge the record six taken in the first round in 1983, a group that included future Hall of Famers John Elway, Jim Kelly and Dan Marino.Th...
Updated: 10 minutes ago
Andrei Vasilevskiy and the universal language of playoff hockey

Andrei Vasilevskiy and the universal language of playoff hockey

TAMPA — As usual, Andrei Vasilevskiy didn't speak in front of the cameras after the game. He has been like that since he hit the NHL. He still isn't comfortable with his English on TV.But Vasilevskiy spoke loudly and clearly in the first-round ...
Updated: 13 minutes ago
Rays are suddenly swinging hot bats, but will it last?

Rays are suddenly swinging hot bats, but will it last?

ST. PETERSBURG — Good pitching and hitting go hand in glove, but the Rays did not look like a team that could swing the bats very well until this completed homestand.In their series sweep over the Twins, Tampa Bay scored 8, 10 and 8 runs. ...
Updated: 16 minutes ago
Rick Stroud’s takeaways from Rays-Twins

Rick Stroud’s takeaways from Rays-Twins

–Yonny Chirinos may be the Rays fourth starter, but it seems to be in name only. He was lifted after pitching 4 2/3 innings against the Twin on Sunday, the shortest start of his career and his second-shortest appearance.  "Going into the g...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Rays’ Carlos Gomez hits two-run walkoff homer to beat Twins for series sweep

Rays’ Carlos Gomez hits two-run walkoff homer to beat Twins for series sweep

ST. PETERSBURG — With every swing, there is a chance Carlos Gomez is going to do something extraordinary with the baseball bat.He may swing so violently that he spins himself into the ground as if he were an oil drill. Or, you could see him sna...
Updated: 2 hours ago

nationwideTravelers face delays as jet engines inspectedScores of Southwest Airlines travelers were facing delays or cancellations Sunday due to emergency inspections following the mid-air explosion of an engine on one of the airline’s 737s last week...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Waffle House hero says shooter would’ve had ‘to work to kill me’; another crude Theta Tau frat video surfaces at Syracuse; more in U.S. news

Waffle House hero says shooter would’ve had ‘to work to kill me’; another crude Theta Tau frat video surfaces at Syracuse; more in U.S. news

TennesseeShooter had ‘to work to kill me’The man who wrestled the gun away from the nearly naked Waffle House shooter in Nashville said Sunday if he were going to die, the gunman would "have to work to kill me." Police and Waffle House CEO Walter Ehm...
Updated: 3 hours ago

Lottery resultsNumbers drawn after 9 p.m. are no longer available by our deadlines. For results, please go to tampabay.com/lottery.Pick 2, 3, 4, 5Sun., April 22, midday:2-2 7-3-9 4-4-6-8e_SRit3-8-8-6-0Sun., April 22, evening:6-2 8-6-0 8-3-9-8e_SR...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Islamic State suicide bomber kills 57 in Afghan capital

Islamic State suicide bomber kills 57 in Afghan capital

Associated PressKABUL, Afghanistan — An Islamic State suicide bomber carried out an attack at a voter registration center in the capital Kabul on Sunday, killing 57 people and wounding more than 100 others, said officials from the Afghan interior and...
Updated: 4 hours ago
China, feeling left out, has plenty to worry about in North Korea-U.S. talks

China, feeling left out, has plenty to worry about in North Korea-U.S. talks

BEIJING — As North Korean leader Kim Jong Un prepares for his meetings with the presidents of South Korea and the United States, China has found itself in an unaccustomed place: watching from the sidelines.Worse, many Chinese analysts say, North Kore...
Updated: 4 hours ago