This opinion certainly creates optimism for injured workers in the State of Florida. Disability benefits have been extended for up to five years, ensuring that injured workers do not go without monetary compensation during the dreaded “statutory gap.” Moreover, this opinion opens up the door for the District Courts of Florida to evaluate permanent total disability in the State of Florida. As the law stands today, an injured worker’s entitlement to permanent total disability benefits ceases at the age of 75. This law is clearly arbitrary and is a rule that does not comport with the ideals of constitutionality and natural justice, as there is no supporting evidence as to why an injured worker should not have these benefits extended to 76, 77, 80 and to death as they did prior to the law change in 2003.
Moreover, as the district court touched on in the Westphal opinion, the insurance carrier is currently the sole party with decision making power as to what physician will treat an injured worker. The 1968 law allowed an injured worker to veto an insurance carrier’s selection of physician. This law gave the injured worker an opportunity to do his/her due diligence in choosing whether or not he wished to treat with the physician selected. With the recent revisions to the law, the Legislature has limited an injured worker to one change in doctor regardless of specialty in 2003. Thus, it is essential for an injured worker to know who will provide the initial treatment, as this care will guide treatment for the future. Moreover, in 2003 the law limited temporary disability benefit payments to 6 months of entitlement for an injured worker who has been placed at maximum medical improvement for his/her physical injury. Even though this individual may be unable to return to work because of his/her mental issues, entitlement to benefits will cease within 6 months. This is another arbitrary law which should be reviewed and changed as there is no rhyme or reason for the limitation of six months of benefits; although care is still being provided for the underlying mental problem. In fact, an injured worker could require years of psychiatric care to alleviate mental issues.
The Westphal case is a landmark decision in that an injured worker will finally be provided for when he/she is unable to work and is incapable of finding employment. Moreover, the District Court of Appeals has finally admitted that certain sections of Florida’s Workers Compensation law is both arbitrary and unconstitutional. This decision should lead to further review of the law as it stands in 2013. Medical and compensation benefits such as permanent total disability benefits, psychiatric care and physician selection should usher in a new wave of challenges to Florida’s Worker’s Compensation law.
If you know an injured worker who may fall into one of these challenging categories, please have them call the Law Firm of Lyle B. Masnikoff and Associates, P.A. at (877) 817-4127.