Your Employer May Be Able to Take Inconsistent Positions in Denying You Benefits
A recent case decided by a Florida appellate court threatens to make it easier for employers to deny their employees workers’ compensation benefits when the employer denies that the injury is covered by workers’ compensation at all. The case has to do with workers’ compensation immunity, and the ability of a worker to sue for personal injury when injured on the job.
A Review of Workers’ Compensation Immunity
To recap, a worker’s sole remedy when injured on the job is through the workers’ compensation system. The worker cannot sue his or her employee in personal injury. There are a few exceptions, one of the biggest being when the employer denies that the injury is covered by workers’ compensation at all.
For example, if the employer does not believe that the worker’s injury was sustained in the course and scope of the worker’s job duties, the employer can deny workers’ compensation benefits. However, when this is denied, the employer cannot use the workers’ compensation immunity as a defense to any personal injury case the worker may file for that injury. The employer cannot say “there is no workers’ compensation coverage,” in one case, and then in a personal injury case, say “you can only sue under workers’ compensation.”
Appellate Case Looks at Language of Denial
Recently, a Florida appellate court dealt with a situation where workers were injured, but the employer denied, as a defense to the workers’ compensation lawsuit, that the injury happened at all.
In response, the workers said fine, and just sued for personal injury damages. To which, the employer said that it was protected by workers’ compensation immunity. The trial court dismissed the personal injury case on the grounds of immunity, and the workers appealed, alleging that the employer was taking contrary positions in both cases.
The appellate court disagreed, noting that the employer had denied that any injury occurred at all. This, according to the Court, was a different situation than cases where an employer says that an injury occurred but was not covered by workers’ compensation. Because the employer in this case had denied the accident even happened, the Court found no contradiction.
According to the Court, if the accident indeed did happen, it would fall under workers’ compensation. If it did not happen at all, there would be no case under either workers’ compensation or personal injury. The question was not “does the injury fall under workers’ compensation,” but rather, “did the accident or injury actually happen.”
Case May Open the Door to Weakening the Exception
On the surface, this may make some sense. Denying the accident ever happened is not the same as denying coverage for an accident that both sides admit did happen. Nonetheless, it opens the door for employers to take inconsistent positions, and certainly makes the exception to workers’ compensation immunity more difficult to understand.
Injured at work or on the job? Make sure you’re prepared to handle the insurance company. The Tampa workers’ compensation attorneys at Barbas, Nuñez, Sanders, Butler & Hovsepian can help you. Call us today to discuss obtaining damages after any accident. Schedule a consultation today.