Appeals Court Holds Apportionment Must be Based on Reliable Methods in Florida Workers’ Compensation Case

In Giaimo v. Florida Autosport, Inc., an automobile mechanic was apparently injured when he was struck from behind while test driving a customer’s vehicle in Florida. Due to the man’s resulting neck and back harm, the worker underwent surgery that was performed by an authorized neurosurgeon. Prior to his workplace accident, however, the man was deemed to be eight percent permanently impaired due to a prior car accident in which he also hurt his neck and back.

At a workers’ compensation benefits hearing, both the mechanic and his employer agreed that he was permanently and totally disabled. Despite this, the man’s employer argued that the man’s benefits should be apportioned because the workplace accident aggravated the mechanic’s preexisting injuries. During the hearing, the man’s surgeon, an authorized pain manager, and one of the worker’s initial treating surgeons offered medical testimony.

Following the hearing, a Judge of Compensation Claims (“JCC”) relied on the testimony of one physician before finding the injured worker suffered a new spinal injury and aggravated a preexisting injury. In addition, the judge ruled that apportionment of the employee’s future benefits was proper, based on the testimony of another doctor. The JCC also excluded the apportionment testimony of the third physician because it “lacked a factual basis.” Despite this, the JCC allowed the man’s employer to rely on this medical testimony when apportioning workers’ compensation benefits.

On appeal, the District Court of Appeal of Florida, First District stated a Florida employer may seek the affirmative defense of apportionment if a preexisting injury merges with an on-the-job accident injury. The employer, however, has the burden of proving each element under Florida law.

After stating the record substantially supported the JCC’s finding that the worker aggravated a preexisting back condition in the workplace accident, the court turned to whether the employer successfully established with sufficient medical evidence the appropriate degree of apportionment. The appellate court found that the JCC relied on an inadmissible medical opinion under Section 90.702.

Although the physician relied upon by the JCC likely had sufficient data on which to base his opinion, the court stated the health care provider offered no reliable insight into the methods used to reach the percentage of the mechanic’s harm that he attributed to the employee’s preexisting condition. According to the court, 2013 changes to the law no longer allow a doctor’s pure opinion testimony to be admitted in a workers’ compensation case. Instead, the court stated such an opinion must be based on reliable methods and principles.

Since the judge relied on an inadmissible medical opinion, the District Court of Appeal of Florida, First District reversed the JCC’s decision and remanded the case for further consideration regarding apportionment of the worker’s disability benefits.

If you were hurt at work in Miami, you should discuss your rights with a dedicated South Florida personal injury lawyer as soon as you are able. To speak with a hardworking Broward County workers’ compensation attorney today, give the skilled advocates at Friedman, Rodman & Frank, P.A. a call at (305) 448-8585 or contact us through our website.

Additional Resources:

Giaimo v. Florida Autosport, Inc., 154 So. 3d 385 – Fla: Dist. Court of Appeals, 1st Dist. 2014

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