Courts Revise Workers’ Compensation Limits: Westphal vs. City of St. Petersburg
Have you experienced a work-place injury and qualified for temporary total disability (TTD) with workers’ compensation? Are you nearing the statutory limitation of 104 weeks for collection of benefits? If so, it is possible that you have more benefits coming your way than you may realize. The experienced workers’ compensation lawyers at our law office in Tampa can help you with your specific circumstances.
Case in Point: Westphal vs. City of St. Petersburg
Though the circumstances of the Westphal case are somewhat unusual, the court’s ruling nonetheless has extended the statutory limitation for workers throughout Florida to up to five years, or 260 weeks, to collect TTD benefits.
After incurring a serious work-related injury in 2009, firefighter Bradley Westphal filed for and received temporary total disability (TTD) benefits. Unable to return to work within 104 weeks, when the legal time limit expired for benefits, Westphal then filed for permanent total disability (PTM). Because Westphal’s physician was anticipating further surgery to remedy the injuries, Westphal was not classified as having reached maximum medical improvement (MMI). Therefore his claim for PTM was denied, citing the fact that PTM benefits are only available to individuals who have reached MMI. Westphal was left in a precarious situation: unable to return to work, yet unable to collect workers’ compensation benefits due to his work-related injuries.
To be sure, Westphal’s injuries were serious. He’d suffered multiple surgeries, including a “five-level fusion of the lumbar spine.”
According to statute, Westphal was allowed to operate only within the workers’ compensation system, and was prohibited from bringing legal action against his employer.
However, in a June, 2016 victory for injured workers, the Florida Supreme Court came down in favor of Westphal in Westphal vs. City of St. Petersburg, holding that sections of Florida Statute 440 were unconstitutional. The court recognized that Westphal was deprived of access to courts, and was thus indefinitely denied access to benefits. Specifically, the court looked to Article I Section 21 of Florida’s Constitution, providing court access for the redress of any injury.
Secondly, the court compared the 104-week TTD limit to limits in other states. Naming a 1917 U.S. Supreme Court decision in N.Y. Central R. Co. wherein the Supreme Court introduced the concept of “natural justice,” the court found Florida’s statutory limit to be inadequate, striking down the time-limit provision.
Who will be Impacted by the Court Ruling?
Although the court intervention in Westphal’s case was in response to a unique “statutory gap,” the ruling extending TTD benefits to 260 weeks impacts all workers eligible for TTD benefits.
Complex Workers’ Compensation Claims
Workers’ compensation claims can sometimes become a matter of contentious wrangling due to the complexities of individual circumstances. If you are struggling to collect the benefits you deserve, you want lawyers experienced with the multifaceted set of regulations and technical information encompassed by workers’ compensation law: you want the Tampa workers’ compensation team at Barbas, Nunez, Sanders, Butler & Hovsepian on your side. Contact our Tampa office today for a consultation surrounding your particular situation.