“The Court accepts jurisdiction of this case as to the basis for jurisdiction under Art. V, § 3(b)(3), Florida Constitution (i.e., expressly declares valid a state statute)” says the Court’s docket.
Florida’s high court will be the first in the nation to weigh in on whether workers’ compensation benefits have so eroded the Grand Bargain that it no longer meets state constitutional muster.
Daniel Stahl was injured while working for the Hialeah Hospital in 2003.
A doctor placed him at maximum medical improvement in October 2005 and assigned him a 7% impairment rating.
Stahl’s case went before the 1st District Court of Appeals, which has original jurisdiction over all workers’ compensation appeals, several times on various issues. His last appeal challenged the statutory imposition of a $10 copay on his doctor visits after he reached MMI as unconstitutional.
He also argued that the elimination of permanent partial disability benefits in 2003 makes the Florida Workers’ Compensation Law an inadequate exclusive replacement remedy for a tort action.
The 1st DCA said both the copay and elimination of PPD withstand rational basis review, in that the copay provision furthers the legitimate stated purpose of ensuring reasonable medical costs after the injured worker has reached a maximum state of medical improvement, and PPD benefits were supplanted by impairment income benefits.
Stahl says in his petition to the Supreme Court that the use of the “Rational Basis” test is improper since fundamental rights are impinged upon: due process of law, the inviolate right of trial by jury, the right of access to courts and the right to be rewarded for industry; arguing that the “Strict Scrutiny” test must be applied instead.
Covering the bases, Stahl says that even if the rational basis test was the correct standard, it was misapplied because work comp law is “remedial” legislation, meaning it is designed to remedy a perceived problem in society: the burden of industrial injury on the industry served.
“It was not to make Florida business competitive with businesses in Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Texas or any other state or country,” Stahl says in his petition.
So if the rational basis test is applicable, the test must apply to the purpose for which the law was enacted, in this case using the police power of the state as its legal foundation.
With regards to indemnity, Stahl argues that the Rational Basis asserted by the 1st DCA fails to take into consideration that in the 12 years since the 2003 amendments, workers’ compensation premiums have been reduced by approximately 60%. “It is no longer necessary to keep benefit reductions in place to contain costs,” it is argued.
Here is the Court’s timing of events: “Petitioner’s initial brief on the merits shall be served on or before November 2, 2015; respondent’s answer brief on the merits shall be served twenty days after service of petitioner’s initial brief on the merits; and petitioner’s reply brief on the merits shall be served twenty days after service of respondent’s answer brief on the merits. The Clerk of the First District Court of Appeal shall file the record which shall be properly indexed and paginated on or before December 14, 2015.”
The parties will be noticed of the scheduling of oral arguments 60 days beforehand. 2016 is going to be very, very interesting.