Almost every year the rights of injured workers are decreased. This process has many working parts. Usually, the Florida Legislature passes some reduction in the benefits available under the Florida Workers’ Compensation Law. Or, it passes some procedural change in the claims process. Or, it further eliminates the ability of injured workers to bring civil actions against the wrongdoers who actually caused the on-the-job injury.
Normally, the Florida courts are right there to interpret the law to be certain the injured worker’s ultimate compensation is not a cent more than the Florida Legislature intends it to be. The courts have a technique of expressing the rights of injured workers in broad, almost inspirational words, but diminishing, restricting and minimizing rights nonetheless.
The Associated Press is reporting on the latest decision of the Florida Supreme Court seemingly in favor of an injured employee. The Florida Supreme Court has rejected a move to block injured workers’ lawsuit.
In its latest ruling, the court decided that an employee hurt on the job does not lose the right to sue an employer by seeking greater workers compensation benefits or filling out a routine questionnaire.
The unsigned opinion reverses a First District Court of Appeal decision and reaffirms prior rulings in which the justices have found the state’s workers compensation law does not protect an employer from liability for intentional wrongdoing.
Workers compensation is designed to make sure injured employees get certain medical and lost wages benefits no matter who is at fault, but it bars them from suing over those damages. It does allow lawsuits for punitive damages, pain and suffering and other damages not covered by workers compensation.
The Supreme Court opinion is JONES v. MARTIN ELECTRONICS, INC., SC04-1538 (Fla. 2006). In it, the Court says:
Florida’s workers’ compensation system was designed, intended, and contemplated for workplace injuries that have occurred in the course and scope of employment. The workers’ compensation system seeks to balance competing interests and provide tradeoffs between employees and employers. Specifically, the workers’ compensation system provides employees limited medical and wage loss benefits, without regard to fault, for losses resulting from workplace injuries in exchange for the employee relinquishing his or her right to seek certain common law remedies from the employer for those injuries under certain circumstances.
Notwithstanding the tradeoffs provided, we have established and continue to hold that an employer’s immunity under the workers’ compensation system does not extend to workplace injuries caused by conduct of the employer so egregious that it is tantamount to an intentional tort.
….an employee is not precluded from filing an action against his or her employer for intentional conduct substantially certain to result in injury simply because some workers’ compensation benefits have been paid.
Precluding a worker from pursuing a remedy for a workplace injury caused by an employer’s intentional tortious conduct would conflict with the intent and spirit of Florida’s workers’ compensation system and would not operate to further its goals if the mere payment of some compensation benefits under the factual circumstances here operated to eliminate such a right.
At about this point Florida workers could be expected to give three cheers for the court system. Hold the applause. I have experienced the total denial of a civil claim against a giant corporate employer that would make a mockery of the Supreme Court’s high-sounding words. The employer intentionally ordered the by-passing of safety interlock systems on six huge machines so that it could require its employees to work in extremely close proximity to dangerous moving gears while the production line continued in operation. The employee’s arm was snagged by a gear and traumatically amputated at the workplace. Our Florida Appellate Court System affirmed the trial court decision that tossed the lawsuit against the employer for intentional conduct substantially certain to result in injury into the trash bin. No jury was ever permitted to even consider the despicable conduct of the corporate defendant.
How can Courts mouth the words of the Florida Supreme Court and reject this and other similar claims?