Florida's high court OKs JCC's authority to set aside settlement agreement
The Florida Supreme Court quashed the decision of the 1st District Court of Appeal in Flamily v. City of Orlando, 924 So.2d 78 (Fla. 1st DCA 2006), in which the 1st DCA ruled that the judge of compensation claims lacked subject matter jurisdiction to vacate a 1996 settlement agreement, and returned the case for further proceedings.
Sanders v. City of Orlando, et al., No. SC06-847 (Fla. 09/25/08).
What it means: The Florida Supreme Court put to rest the issue of whether judges of compensation claims have jurisdiction to set aside workers' compensation settlement agreements, concluding that such jurisdiction does exist, despite an amendment to the workers' compensation law in 2001. The amendment did not divest JCCs of the power to vacate or set aside settlement agreements -- it merely created a distinction between represented and unrepresented parties as to whether JCC approval was required.
In Flamily, the 1st DCA reversed the JCC's order vacating the parties' 1996 settlement agreement regarding a firefighter's heart condition. It reinstated the settlement agreement, explaining that the JCC lacked subject matter jurisdiction to vacate the agreement due to a 2001 amendment to the workers' compensation law. While the appeal to the Supreme Court was pending, the firefighter died, and the personal representative of his estate was substituted as the petitioner. The Supreme Court quashed the 1st DCA's decision, concluding that it "expressly and directly conflicts with well-established precedent that JCCs have exclusive jurisdiction over workers' compensation matters." As a result, the JCC had the power to set aside the 1996 settlement agreement.
The court explained that prior to the 2001 amendment, courts consistently interpreted the Workers' Compensation Act to empower the JCCs to vacate or set aside settlement agreements. The subsection that was added to the statute addresses the JCC's approval of the attorney's fee portion of the claim when the claimant is represented by counsel. According to the Supreme Court, "this provision does not in any way address whether a JCC retains jurisdiction to vacate or set aside a settlement agreement of a represented workers' compensation claimant."
November 4, 2008
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