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Filing For Workers' Comp Benefits In Florida? What Could A Challenge To The State's Laws Mean For You?

If you've recently been injured in a workplace accident or undergone surgery to try to relieve the pain or limited range of motion cause by a repetitive-use injury, you may be worried about whether your employer's workers' compensation coverage will fully reimburse you for the medical bills and other expenses you expect to incur during your recovery. Those living in Florida may have even more reason to be concerned, as the elimination of permanent partial disability benefits can often leave injured Florida workers unable to collect benefits for an injury that has effectively cut their career short. Read on to learn more about how recent changes to the state's permanent partial disability program could impact your potential workers' comp benefits and how a challenge in the U.S. Supreme Court could alter the state's reimbursement procedure -- as well as what you can do to preserve your own benefits. 

What changes were made to Florida's permanent partial disability program? 

More than a decade ago, Florida lawmakers voted to eliminate the state's coverage for permanent partial disability (PPD). Essentially, PPD covers injuries that prevent a worker from doing his or her former job, but not any job -- often physical injuries that prevent someone from doing labor but not more sedentary work. Because retraining and finding a new career can be difficult in even the best situations, those who are unable to return to their former jobs (and, since 2003, unable to receive PPD benefits) can often find themselves facing involuntary retirement or having to file for federal disability benefits to get by until they become eligible for Social Security.

What could a U.S. Supreme Court ruling mean for Florida's PPD benefits program?

One worker who was injured just before Florida's elimination of PPD benefits has filed a lawsuit against the State of Florida, arguing that its elimination of these benefits was an unconstitutional intrusion into a workers' ability to recover damages from an injury that was not his or her fault. The Florida Supreme Court accepted transfer of this case and heard oral argument, but declined to rule. The plaintiff has now appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, hoping that it will accept jurisdiction over the case and clarify the constitutionality of the state's 2003 elimination of PPD benefits. If this lawsuit is resolved in the plaintiff's favor, the scope of Florida workers' compensation law may shift again as these benefits are reinstated for injured workers.

What are your other options if you're unable to receive PPD benefits for your workplace injury?

Although your employer's workers' comp policy should pay any medical bills and lost wages stemming from your injury for a certain period of time, if you do have a permanent partial disability that is likely to prevent you from returning to work, you may want to investigate your other legal options -- including filing a personal injury lawsuit. If you're able to conclusively establish that your employer was negligent and this negligence led to your injury, you may be able to recover damages above and beyond those you received from the workers' comp insurer. In some cases, this can even include punitive damages that aren't based on the extent or severity of your injuries but are designed to discourage your employer from engaging in such negligent activities in the future. 

However, any final judgment you're awarded may be reduced or offset by the amount of funds you've already received through the workers' compensation program. For example, if a court determines that your employer's negligence led to your injury and awards you $500,000 in damages after you've received $200,000 in workers' comp payments, you'll only be able to collect $300,000 from your employer rather than the full judgment amount. 

Workers' compensation laws can vary a lot by state, so don't hesitate to reach out to a local attorney or check out the site.