The Florida Supreme Court just released their ruling on the high profile Westphal v. City of St. Petersburg case. The justices declared that the state’s statutory 104-week cap on Temporary Disability Benefits is unconstitutional.
The Westphal case involved a former City of St. Petersburg firefighter who suffered from a workplace injury that left him with multiple surgery’s and unable to return to work. He had exhausted his Temporary Benefits but was refused Permanent Disability because his long-term recovery could not be determined. So, even though he was not deemed as Permanently Disabled, he was unable to return to work.
The court said that to cut off disability benefits after 104 weeks to a worker who is totally disabled and incapable of working, but who has not yet reached maximum medical improvement is unconstitutional. They opted to revive a previous limitation, increasing the limit to 260 weeks (5 years).
This ruling comes just months after the Castellanos case ruled the statutory limit on attorney fees was unconstitutional. These two decisions are an indicator of major changes in the Florida’s workers’ compensation system. Together, they will completely change the landscape of the system as we know it. We can see the beginning of these effects with the proposed rate increase by NCCI just a few weeks ago.
What Does This Mean for Employers?
Many insurers anticipating this ruling have either continued benefits or accepted claimants as permanently totally disabled. In other words, some of the impact may be lessened with current cases that are open. The lengthened temporary benefits will increase claims costs, which in turn will affect workers’ compensation rates and potentially keep claims open for longer periods, affecting experience mods.
We expect to see many changes in the workers’ compensation marketplace in the next few years as rates and insurers react to these cases. It is crucial for employers to have an advisor who is knowledgeable and has a proactive approach to claims.