1. Business

Court sides with injured worker in benefits case

Published Nov. 9, 2016

Pointing to a Florida Supreme Court ruling that found part of the workers' compensation system unconstitutional, an appeals court Wednesday said a partially injured worker should be able to receive benefits beyond a limit in state law.

The ruling by a panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal dealt with a coverage "gap" in the workers' compensation system and was rooted in a June decision by the Supreme Court. In the Supreme Court case, injured St. Petersburg firefighter Bradley Westphal was paid what are known as "temporary total disability" benefits for 104 weeks, which was the limit for those types of payments under state law.

But when Westphal sought to receive permanent total disability benefits, a judge of compensation claims ruled that the request was premature because it had not been determined that Westphal had reached what is known as "maximum medical improvement." That created a gap until Westphal could get permanent benefits several months later.

The Supreme Court found the law unconstitutional and ordered that the state return to a pre-1994 law that allowed 260 weeks of temporary total disability benefits in situations such as the Westphal case.

Wednesday's ruling, in a case brought by injured worker Vincent Jones against Food Lion, Inc. and Risk Management Services, dealt with a similar situation but involved "temporary partial disability" benefits — rather than temporary total disability benefits, as in the Westphal case. The appeals court said the Supreme Court ruling should also apply to such situations, allowing temporary partial disability benefits up to 260 weeks.