Florida Appellate Court Holds Injured Employee’s Motion for Sanctions Was Not Premature

In Soca v. Advanced Auto Parts, an auto parts store employee was apparently injured during a robbery at work. Following the incident, the man filed three petitions for workers’ compensation benefits. Soon afterward, the man’s employer provided him with the benefits he requested, and the worker withdrew his petitions.

Next, the employer sought to tax the worker for costs under Section 440.34(3) of the Florida Statutes. Under the law, the nonprevailing party in a proceeding before a Judge of Compensation Claims (“JCC”) is required to pay the “reasonable costs” associated with the proceedings. According to the employer, the company was clearly the prevailing party in the workers’ compensation proceedings. The employee responded by filing a motion for sanctions against his employer pursuant to Section 440.32. In his motion, the worker argued the costs sought by his employer could not have been incurred in the company’s defense against his petition for workers’ compensation benefits.

A motion made under Section 440.32 must comply with Florida Administrative Code Rule 60Q-6.125(4)(a). Under this procedural rule, a motion for sanctions in a workers’ compensation proceeding may not be filed until at least 21 days have passed since it was served on the party accused of instituting or continuing workers’ compensation proceedings without reasonable grounds for doing so.

The worker served his employer with the motion for sanctions more than 21 days before it was filed with a JCC. About one week after the sanctions motion was formally filed, the employer withdrew its motion for costs to be taxed against the worker. The employer maintained that it withdrew the costs motion because it failed to comply with a specific procedural rule. Despite this, the employer maintained that its motion for costs was not frivolous.

Next, a hearing was held regarding the worker’s motion for sanctions. The JCC ruled that the motion was premature, since it was impossible for the judge to determine whether the employer’s motion for costs was reasonable. After that, the worker filed an appeal with Florida’s First District Court of Appeals.

After examining the record below, the appellate court stated the JCC committed an error when he found that the employee’s motion for sanctions was premature. The court said that although the JCC no longer had jurisdiction to review the employer’s motion for costs, the sanctions motion was reviewable because the employer failed to withdraw its request until after the 21-day safe harbor period enumerated in the procedural rule expired. According to the court, to hold otherwise would render the safe harbor period included in the rule meaningless.

Since the JCC committed an error when he refused to consider the worker’s motion for sanctions, Florida’s First District Court of Appeal reversed the JCC’s order and remanded the case for further proceedings.

If you were injured at work in Florida, you need an experienced Miami workers’ compensation attorney on your side. To discuss your right to recover benefits with a caring South Florida workers’ compensation lawyer today, do not hesitate to call the dedicated advocates at Friedman, Rodman & Frank, P.A. at (305) 448-8585 or contact us online.

Additional Resources:

Soca v. Advanced Auto Parts, Fla: Dist. Court of Appeals, 1st Dist. 2016

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Florida Appeals Court Holds Section 57.105 Does Not Entitle Defendant to Privileged Information, February 25, 2016, South Florida Personal Injury Lawyers Blog

Florida Hearing Indicates Takata Concealed Evidence of Airbag Defect, February 22, 2016, South Florida Personal Injury Lawyers Blog

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