Is Florida Workers’ Comp at Risk Due to One Judgment

Florida Workers’ Comp Versus Employer’s Liability

Citywise Florida Map - Florida Workers’ CompThe case, which is before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit in Florida, is a complicated one in many ways. The family of a man crushed to death in a landscaping accident is seeking to collect a $9.5 million judgment despite the fact that they have already received benefits through workers’ compensation.

The idea behind workers’ compensation is to provide immunity from tort claims. But the claimants pursued, successfully, a suit that was filed under the employer’s liability section of their insurance policy.

Background on the Case

Leticia Morales, widow of Santana Morales Jr., received her judgment after a one-day wrongful death jury trial. The widow sued for damages and won the case in 2005 in state circuit court. Previously, the circuit judge had entered a default on liability because the employer, Lawn Nursery and Irrigation Designs Inc., never responded to discovery. Nor was the employer present or it represented at trial.

Two Types of Coverage

The employer’s insurance policy was in two parts: workers’ compensation and employer’s liability. Thus, the family managed to collect under both types of coverage, or, at least, won awards under each.

This occurred due to the fact that the workers’ comp claim was outstanding when the second lawsuit, which pertained to liability, was filed. The insurance provider, Zenith Insurance Company, finally did settle the workers’ compensation case with the plaintiff. Also, the liability claim was for gross negligence.

One of the major problems related to the case, at least for the insurance agency, was that it let the claim sit idle for two years and never made a motion for dismissal.

Workers’ Compensation Representation

Workers compensation cases, especially those that involve serious life-changing injuries or wrongful death, are exceptionally complex. That means that both sides, plaintiff and defendant, require responsible, experienced, and motivated lawyers who are skilled and knowledgeable regarding workers’ compensation.

The case before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit in Florida comes down to some fine lines of reasoning and, to a degree, fairness, as well as how one is to interpret the law in this specific case.

There is an exemption concerning one’s ability to sue when workers’ comp is in effect. This would seem to favor the point of view that the plaintiff’s claim should be dismissed.

However, there is the fact of the matter that the insurance company made no effort, or apparently little, to get the claim dismissed or to even attend to it. Such inaction can certainly lead to one losing a case by default. This is especially the case when the event is so traumatic and life altering for a family as this one was.

Seeking Representation

For those who oversee Florida’s workers’ compensation system, the case is an important one. If the plaintiff prevails, it brings into question the viability of the exclusion of liability judgments when one receives workers’ comp awards. That could, with over 50,000 workers’ compensation claims alone in Florida in one year, bankrupt the system.