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Is the idea of workers' comp as the 'sole remedy' on its way out?

One of the complaints about personal injury lawsuits has been that the results are so inconsistent. A woman who loses her husband, the father of their three young children, in a drunk driving accident could be awarded millions in damages by one jury and less then $1 million by another. State laws try to control damage awards, especially for pain and suffering, but with mixed success. The dollar amounts may be lower, but, opponents argue, what if the plaintiff deserves more? What if making a plaintiff whole will really cost twice the amount the state has decided is quite enough, thank you?

One of the objectives of the workers' compensation system is to eliminate the costs of litigation and the delays that come with it. A workplace can be a dangerous place, and to make sure that the business continues to operate and an injured worker receives the necessary care and compensation for a work-related injury, the two sides agreed to take fault out of the equation.

The success of a workers' comp system depends on it being the only option, the sole remedy. If workers have a choice between litigation and workers' comp, the time and money savings of the no-fault system cannot be realized. Both employers and employees are better off in a more predictable, less complicated system than one that included litigation. Just look at the Florida Legislature's statement of legislative intent included in the workers' comp law: "The workers’ compensation system in Florida is based on a mutual renunciation of common-law rights and defenses by employers and employees alike."

That basic tenet, though, may be the only thing that our system has in common with another state's system. Using the idea of sole remedy as a starting point, states could go in all directions as they designed their own workers' comp systems.

We'll explain why that makes a difference in our next post.

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