104-week limitation on TTD benefits fails constitutional test
Case name: Westphal v. City of St. Petersburg, No. 1D12-3563 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 02/28/13).
The Florida District Court of Appeal held that the 104-week limitation on temporary total disability benefits was unconstitutional and revived a previous 260-week limitation.
What it means: In Florida, the 104-week limitation on TTD benefits is unconstitutional as it violates the state's guarantee that justice will be administrated without denial or delay.
Summary: A firefighter and paramedic for a city injured his back and knee in the course of his employment. He had spine surgery and other medical treatment. The city accepted his injury and paid temporary total disability benefits. While recovering from surgery, his entitlement to the 104 weeks of TTD benefits expired. His doctors and vocational experts found him incapable of working or obtaining employment. The firefighter filed a claim for permanent total disability benefits, which was denied because he had not reached maximum medical improvement. The Florida District Court of Appeal held that the 104-week limitation on temporary total disability benefits was unconstitutional and revived a previous 260-week limitation.
The court explained that once his benefits expired, the firefighter had to go without disability pay or wages and wait until the city's authorized doctors opined that he reached maximum medical improvement. He could not recover disability benefits for the waiting period of nine months. The court said this was "repugnant to fundamental fairness" because it relegated a severely injured worker to a "legal twilight zone of economic and familial ruin."
When comparing the 104-week limit on TTD to limits in other jurisdictions, the court found it apparent that the limit was not adequate and did not "comport with principles of natural justice." The court stated that this case represented a recurrent problem resulting from the 104-week limitation. The court found that no public necessity justified the "fundamentally unjust system of redress for injury."
The court noted that its decision applied prospectively only, and not on rulings, adjudications, or proceedings that were final before the decision.
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April 29, 2013
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