The Florida appeals court that decided this workers’ comp case wasn’t crazy about the decision it was forced to make. So it took the unusual step of urging the state Legislature to reconsider the law in question.
At issue: Should a worker who initiates a good-faith comp claim, but is ultimately denied, have to pay his or her employer’s legal fees.
There was no question that Gina Frederick, who worked for the Monroe County School District, was injured on the job. The only question was whether she was permanently and totally disabled.
Her doctor said she was. So she filed for benefits.
When another doctor said she wasn’t, an independent medical examiner was brought in to cast the tiebreaking vote.
She wasn’t, said the IME, so the employee reluctantly (and somewhat belatedly, the court noted) withdrew her claim.
But there was another issue to consider: The school district wanted her to pay its legal fees, which came to a little over $16,000. Another hearing was held, and the employee was ordered to pay roughly three quarters of that.
She appealed, arguing that since her claim had been made in good faith and backed by her authorized treating physician, she shouldn’t have to pay anything. Forcing her to do so, she said, would have a chilling effect on future employees in similar situations, effectively imposing an unconstitutional restriction on their right of access to the courts.
Besides, she said, she was out of work. How was she supposed to come up with the money?
The court sympathized but said its hands were tied. Based on the law, it had to affirm the lower court’s decision.
But in an unusual addendum, the court “respectfully recommend(ed) that the Legislature consider” whether employees in similar situations should be subject to the imposition of costs. And it noted that the current law limits fees for workers’ lawyers.
What do you think? Should employees who lose or withdraw after filing good-faith comp claims have to pay employers’ costs? Feel free to comment below.