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The Ups and Downs of Workers’ Compensation for Personal Injuries

For workers injured—or, shudder to think—killed in the course of their employment, Florida’s workers’ compensation laws can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, workers’ compensation remedies ensure that the injured worker, or families of deceased workers, will receive money relatively expediently. On the other hand, workers’ compensation places a limit on the amount of money that can be recovered, and—in all but the most extreme circumstances—prevents any additional recovery by bringing a tort lawsuit.

The general rule of Florida law is that, except in cases where an employer commits an intentional wrong, or acts in such a way that death or injury is a “virtual certainty” (to quote the Florida Court of Appeals), an employer who pays workers’ compensation benefits enjoys statutory immunity from negligence lawsuits. The same is not necessarily true, however, of the individual managers and supervisors that work for a particular employer—for them, a slightly less stringent (though still quite difficult) standard of “gross negligence” applies. Knowing the difference can mean the difference between a recovery limited by workers’ compensation benefits and a more fulsome recovery for negligent actions. Although workers compensation is sometimes adequate, there are other cases where it is not.

A Recent Example from the Florida Courts

The 2013 case of Boston v. Publix Supermarkets is a true tragedy that provides a good example of the different standards in action. In that case, an employee of a Publix Supermarket was tragically killed by the driver of a large tractor at one of its distribution warehouses. The driver apparently could not see the victim, who had hopped out of his own tractor to have a conversation, standing directly behind him. He backed his trailer up, and horrifically crushed the victim against a wall. The tractor’s “backing up” alarm, evidently, was not working, and the victim had been facing the wrong direction. It turned out, however, that the particular operator of the tractor knew that the backing-up alarm was out of order, and knew about it for more than month. Nevertheless, he took no action to repair the alarm, failed to report the malfunction to Publix, and took no other steps to inform others about the danger.

The victim’s family, of course, received workers’ compensation benefits, but this was sorry compensation for the incredible loss they had suffered. They sued Publix and the employee who had been driving the trailer. The court found that, under Florida law, different standards should be applied to each. Since Publix hadn’t known about the defective alarm, the victim couldn’t show that it was a “virtual certainty” that injury or death would result. It was a different story for the operator, however. His conduct, the Court said, could be considered grossly negligent, and the issue should be permitted to reach the jury.

If you or someone you love has been injured at work, you need advice about whether to settle for workers’ compensation benefits or consider bringing a negligence claim against the employer. The experienced personal injury attorneys at Gary Roberts & Associates, P.A. can help you decide.

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