Florida treats work-related injuries differently than it does other types of personal injury. Typically, the workers’ compensation system, administered by the Florida Division of Workers’ Compensation, will handle your claim, not the courts.
That doesn’t mean you can’t hire a lawyer to represent you, and it doesn’t mean you don’t need one. Following are some answers to typical questions about workers’ compensation claims.
Can I Sue My Employer for a Work-Related Injury?
Probably not. One of the primary purposes of the worker’s compensation system is to prevent the courts from becoming clogged with a multitude of work-related personal injury claims. Although you cannot sue your employer, you can file a workers’ compensation claim to demand certain financial benefits. Workers’ compensation will pay these benefits on behalf of your employer.
If your employer intentionally injured you, you can take advantage of an exception that allows you to sue your employer in court, thereby avoiding the limitations of the worker’s compensation damages.
How Do I Prove My Employer Was at Fault?
You don’t need to. One of the significant advantages of the workers’ compensation system is that it is not fault-based. You do not have to prove that your employer was at fault to obtain compensation under the workers’ compensation system. What you do need to prove is that your injury was work-related and it happened during the course and scope of your job.
What Benefits Does Workers’ Compensation Offer?
Florida workers’ compensation offers compensation for medical expenses and lost earnings. You can receive compensation regardless of whether your disability is partial or total or temporary or permanent.
Workers’ compensation will pay for medical expenses arising from your work-related injury, as long as your doctor recommends the treatment. Workers’ compensation insurance must also approve it. You can also receive payments for traveling to and from medical treatment, purchasing prescription medication, and vocational rehabilitation if needed.
If you or a loved one dies from a work-related injury or illness, surviving family members can receive death benefits from workers’ compensation.
You can also receive benefits for lost earnings. If your disability is temporary, you will probably receive two-thirds of the earnings you were receiving immediately before your accident. There is a maximum amount that increases from year to year. In 2022 this maximum is $1,099 per week.
The Florida workers’ compensation system will not compensate you for your first seven days off work unless you miss more than a total of 21 days of work because of your injury.
If you suffer a permanent occupational disability, workers’ compensation can extend your benefits until you are 75 years old or sometimes even longer. The maximum benefit stated above still applies. Even if your disability is only partial, you may still be eligible for a certain amount of benefits based on your doctor’s determination of your degree of disability.
Can I Claim Non-Economic Damages Such as Pain & Suffering?
No, unfortunately, workers’ compensation does not offer non-economic damages such as:
- Pain and suffering;
- Mental anguish;
- Loss of enjoyment of life;
- Emotional distress; or
- Other intangible losses that you may suffer.
Non-economic damages often amount to more than half of the total value of a non-work-related personal injury claim.
How Can I Get Around Workers’ Compensation Limitations on Non-Economic Damages?
Find a second defendant. The catch is that you will have to file an ordinary personal injury claim, which can go to court if you can’t settle it at the bargaining table. In most cases, you will have to prove that the second defendant was at fault.
For example, slip and fall accidents are common on construction sites. The owner of real property is typically responsible for ensuring that there are no unreasonably dangerous conditions on the property. This might justify a claim if you can trace your injury to a dangerous condition on the property that the owner should have repaired (a hidden trench, for example).
If you suffer an injury from a defective product, you can file a product liability lawsuit against any party in the product’s chain of distribution, from the manufacturer to the retailer.
What Steps Should I Take to Avoid Damaging My Claim?
A skilled workers’ compensation lawyer can give you a hundred tips that you can follow to avoid damaging your claim.
Following are a few of the most important ones:
- Report your injury or illness to your employer as soon as possible, both verbally and in writing.
- Seek medical treatment immediately. Do not delay medical treatment even for a few hours because the worker’s compensation system can use any delay against you.
- Open a file where you keep your medical records, bills, and notes on how your injury develops over time.
- Contact an experienced workers’ compensation attorney immediately. This should be your second priority behind seeking medical treatment.
Strictly follow any additional advice that your doctor or your attorney provides to you.
Does It Matter If I Was Partly at Fault?
Generally, it does not affect your claim if the accident that caused your injury was partly your fault. It might matter if you were engaged in illegal activity, working while intoxicated, or fighting. Except for extreme behavior such as this, fault does not matter in a workers’ compensation claim.
Contact a Workers’ Compensation Lawyer ASAP
If you have suffered a work-related injury, you are entitled to hire an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer to represent you. Contact Perenich, Caulfield, Avril & Noyes by calling our office or filling out our online contact form to schedule a free consultation with a Clearwater workers’ compensation lawyer. We will fight hard to protect your interests and maximize your compensation.