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If you're injured at work, can you sue your employer for damages?

Generally, Florida law recognizes workers' compensation as the sole remedy when a worker is injured on the job. The answer to the question in the post's title, however, is not a firm "no." There are exceptions to the rule.

Workers' comp was developed as a faster and less expensive way to compensate the injured worker and an easier way for employers to manage labor costs. Litigation takes time, and the injured worker cannot spare the time: He needs to seek treatment and to secure some kind of income until he can return to work.

Litigation is expensive for the employer, too. There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all lawsuit; the course of litigation can be as unique as the plaintiffs. If juries were involved, too, damage awards could vary significantly -- a complaint shared now with critics of the medical malpractice system.

Workers' comp also saves the justice system from a flooded docket. On paper, at least, everyone benefits.

In practice, of course, things work a little differently. Workers' comp laws have evolved over the decades -- centuries, actually, and people that have tried to navigate the system may say that there is still room for improvement. A recent Florida Supreme Court decision has helped to clarify the law on an important point.

The worker in this case was killed while working for a lawn and nursery company. His widow filed a workers' compensation claim. She also filed a wrongful death lawsuit. The employer's insurance policy covered both workers' comp and employer liability. When the lawsuit resulted in a damage award of $9.5 million, the insurer refused to pay.

The issue the Supreme Court had to answer, then, was whether the employer liability policy allowed her to collect workers' comp benefits as well as the damage award. In other words, can the employee's estate sue the employer for damages?

According to the appellate court, there has been some confusion about the issue. The Supreme Court cleared that up in its decision. We'll get into it more in our next post.

Sources:

Business Insurance, "Florida workers comp exclusive remedy rule bars wrongful death payout to family," Sheena Harrison, Dec. 5, 2014

West's F. S. A. T. XXXI, Ch. 440, "Workers' Compensation," via WestlawNext

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