Westphal v. City of St. Petersburg

194 So. 3d 311 (2016)

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Westphal v. City of St. Petersburg

Florida Supreme Court
194 So. 3d 311 (2016)

Facts

In December 2009, Bradley Westphal (plaintiff) was employed as a firefighter with the City of St. Petersburg (defendant) when he suffered a severe injury in the course of his employment. Westphal filed a claim for benefits against the City of St. Petersburg and the State of Florida (defendant), and he received temporary total-disability and medical benefits. Per a limitation provision in the workers’-compensation laws, an injured worker was no longer entitled to temporary total-disability benefits when the worker reached the date of maximum medical improvement or after 104 weeks. Westphal did not reach maximum medical improvement before 104 weeks. Westphal filed a petition for benefits, requesting further temporary disability benefits or permanent total-disability benefits. The judge of compensation claims (JCC) denied Westphal’s claim for permanent total-disability benefits. Westphal appealed to the First District Court of Appeal (the First District), arguing that the JCC erred in denying permanent total-disability benefits and that the 104-week statutory limitation on temporary total-disability benefits was an unconstitutional denial of access to the courts. The First District panel instructed the JCC to grant Westphal additional temporary total-disability benefits, up to 260 weeks, holding that the 104-week limitation was unconstitutional as applied to Westphal’s case. The panel reasoned that Westphal would have been eligible for up to 260 weeks of temporary benefits under the statutory provisions in effect before a 1994 amendment. Prior to the panel’s decision, the First District granted the City of St. Petersburg’s and the State of Florida’s motions for rehearing en banc. The en banc majority subsequently found that the First District’s earlier constructions of the statute were incorrect and held that a worker who remained totally disabled by the end of eligibility for temporary total-disability benefits was at maximum medical improvement by operation of law and could assert a claim for permanent- and total-disability benefits. The First District did not consider whether prior interpretation of the provision rendered the statute unconstitutional as a denial of access to the courts. The First District requested review by the Florida Supreme Court.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Pariente, J.)

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