Florida Appeals Court Addresses Psychiatric Disability in Workers’ Compensation Case

In School Board of Lee County v. Huben, an employee suffered an arm injury at work. Following her workplace harm, the Florida woman sought workers’ compensation benefits. A Judge of Compensation Claims (“JCC”) awarded the worker temporary partial disability, temporary total disability, and other benefits. In addition, the JCC apparently adjusted the employee’s average weekly wage upwards. After the JCC issued the award, the woman’s employer filed an appeal with the District Court of Appeal of Florida, First District.

On appeal, the worker’s employer argued the JCC should not have considered the independent medical examiner evidence offered by the worker. In addition, the employer claimed the JCC should have denied the worker’s temporary partial disability benefits request because she voluntarily limited her income. The employer also asserted that the employee’s psychiatric injury did not merit a temporary total disability award and that the JCC should not have awarded the worker legal fees based on the average weekly wage adjustment.

Florida’s First District affirmed the JCC’s decision regarding the admission of the independent medical evidence offered and the temporary partial disability benefits award. The court also stated the employer’s request to overturn the JCC’s decision regarding legal fees was not yet ripe. After that, the court turned to whether the worker’s psychiatric harm merited a temporary total disability award under Section 440.093(3) of the Florida Statutes.

The appellate court stated it was undisputed that the worker’s physical injury reached its “maximum medical improvement” in January 2014. Unfortunately, the worker failed to offer evidence related to her psychiatric injury until about six months later. The Florida court then said that the worker’s temporary total disability benefits were clearly subject to the provisions enumerated in Section 440.093(3).

According to the First District, the plain language of the statute sets a strict deadline after which no benefits may be paid for mental injuries. The Florida court stated the law “starts a clock that stops six months” after a worker’s maximum medical improvement (“MMI”) occurs. Since the worker’s MMI occurred on January 9, 2014, the First District said she was only eligible to receive temporary total disability benefits from the date on which she obtained an admissible medical opinion through July 9, 2014. Since the JCC committed error when he issued a temporary total disability award that extended beyond that date, Florida’s First District reversed the JCC’s order on that issue and remanded the case. The appellate court added that it was up to the Florida Legislature to amend the law at issue if its holding did not comply with the overall purpose of the state’s workers’ compensation law.

If you were hurt at work in South Florida, you should discuss your rights with a hardworking personal injury attorney as soon as you are able. To speak with an experienced South Florida workers’ compensation lawyer today, do not hesitate to give the dedicated advocates at Friedman, Rodman & Frank, P.A. a call at (305) 448-8585 or contact us through our website.

Additional Resources:

School Board of Lee County v. Huben, Fla: Dist. Court of Appeals, 1st Dist. 2015

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Florida Court Finds Injured Woman’s Request to Amend Her Premises Liability Complaint Must be Reconsidered, June 25, 2015, South Florida Personal Injury Lawyers Blog

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