Are you entitled to benefits if you violate a safety rule? The short answer is yes. It is extremely important that we adhere to our company’s safety regulations and rules while we are at the workplace. These regulations are in place to protect ourselves and our co-workers. At times, however, we may be extremely busy, under deadline, or have some other pressures associated with the job that cause us to overlook or forget about a safety regulation that in turn plays a part in causing an injury. This oversight is not due to any malicious, or intentional act, but is simply a mistake. What happens? You are still covered.
How you are covered will depend on a couple of factors. First, let’s say that your employer gives you a harness, or some other safety device, and you refuse to use it. Florida Statute § 440.09(5) allows the insurance carrier to reduce your benefits by 25 percent in this instance. This could mean that your indemnity, or missed wage benefits, are reduced by 25%. This is very important because if you are on a no work status from your doctor, the most in indemnity payments you can receive is 66 and 2/3 percent of you average weekly wages. In essence, at best, your wages are already reduced by a third. If you knowingly refuse to follow a safety rule, the carrier can knock another 25 percent off the top. This could severely affect your ability to pay bills and put food on the table.
This also means that instead of receiving medical treatment at no cost to you based on your work injury, you may have to pay 25 percent of your medical bills. Your private health insurance would not cover the difference. Depending on your injuries, this could get very expensive. What is a “willful refusal” of following a safety rule or using a safety appliance? This is where it gets tricky. The Florida Supreme Court has previously stated that the mere violation of a statute, ordinance, or regulation is not willful misconduct as a matter of law. The Court went so far as to say that mere negligence and even gross negligence, fall short of willful misconduct. Arguably, the carrier must show that the employee also knew that the refusal would likely lead to injury.
This also holds true for violation of traffic laws. Traffic laws amount to safety rules when such laws are intended to protect the public from harm. You should think about this the next time you are driving as part of your employment and do not use your seatbelt. Even if there is willful refusal, the safety device at question must have been in working order and available to the employee.
Also, the employer must show that the safety rule in question was enforced. If the employer does not enforce the safety rules, the carrier is not entitled to the reduction.
Throughout Mr. Masnikoff’s sixteen-year career, he has seen carriers time and time again, attempt to use this defense, sometimes unjustly. We take the to make sure you fully understand the law and the complex issues that will arise. We would love to discuss your case and explain all of your options to make sure that you receive the benefits that you are entitled to and that those who wrongfully withhold those benefits are held accountable. If you or someone you know is in this situation, please give us a call at (877) 817-4127.