Injured on the job and suing your employer
Suffering an injury while on the job is unfortunate, but it happens more often than one would imagine. When you are hurt on a Florida company's property or while engaged in a company's business, you may have the right to compensation for your injuries via worker's compensation insurance policies held by your employer.
However, these are not automatic payments, and there are several steps you must take in order to ensure you receive payouts. Here is what you must do.
What is workers' compensation?
First of all, workers' compensation is a statutory system that provides benefits to injured workers. This means it is different in each state, and it also means that a worker can bypass the legal system. It protects employers from litigious employees (in most cases, anyway).
It's a “no fault” system, meaning you can get benefits even if you negligently contributed to your own injuries.
Who is covered by workers' compensation insurance?
Individuals employed in the state of Florida would be covered by workers' compensation.
This means that all private and public employers within state lines, with limited exceptions, must provide workers' compensation benefits for their employees if one or more full- or part-time persons are employed there (which includes family members).
Certain people will not be included. The following individuals are examples (and certainly not all) of who can be exempt from mandatory coverage under the Workers' Compensation Act:
- Certain business owners
- Licensed real estate agents
- Brokers working on commission
- Independent contractors
- Repairmen making less than $2,000 per calendar year
- Federal employees (covered under federal laws)
- Drivers under a lease agreement with a common or contract carrier
What you must do after a workplace injury in Florida
To make sure that you receive the most in workers' compensation benefits for your injuries, ensure that you do the following:
- Seek emergency treatment for your injuries if necessary.
- Report your injury to your boss immediately or as soon as you can. The law requires that you report an injury to your employer within thirty (30) days of it happening.
- Make sure to choose a physician specified by your employer. This ensures that your treatment will be covered.
What your company must do after a workplace injury
When an employee is hurt on the job, the Florida Division of Workers' Compensation states that your company should investigate the accident immediately or as soon afterward as is practicable. All relevant facts about what happened should be gathered and shared with the insurance company upon request.
Florida state law requires your employer to tell the insurance company about your injury within seven (7) days of notification, regardless of how minor. This is done by the filing of a First Report of Injury with the Division and with the insurance company.
While your company will report that the accident occurred, this doesn't necessarily mean that it's admitting to the facts being reported. It's simply a statement that the employee is making a claim. If your employer questions whether the injury is in fact work related, this should be noted on the injury form.
Timely filing of this form is important because the company's insurance cannot potentially pay you benefits or cover your bills if it does not know about the injury. It can also be penalized for late filing.
What injuries are covered under workers' compensation?
Workers' comp can be very valuable if you are injured, and getting full benefits can be a tough road.
With few exceptions, no matter who caused the accident, work-related injuries in Florida are covered by workers' compensation. The most common injuries tend to be:
- Falling object injuries
- Slip and falls
- Machine entanglements
- Vehicle accidents
- Repetitive motion injuries
Your benefits will very likely be reduced if it's found that you contributed to your injuries by using alcohol or drugs, you did not use a safety device, or you did not obey safety rules.
Types of disability
In Florida, there are levels of impairment and disability that each carries a different entitlement in terms of how much coverage is authorized. These are:
- Temporary total disability (TTD): when you are temporarily but totally disabled and cannot work
- Temporary partial disability (TPD): when you return to work with modified job duties and reduced hours and wages
Your employer's got your back... right?
Many people like the company they work for – and with good reason! They gave you a bonus at Christmas, maybe a turkey at Thanksgiving. So, you might think that your company will do its best for you when you get injured and help with your medical bills.
Your company might be awesome under normal conditions, sure. But an expensive workplace accident isn't an example of “normal conditions.”
Workers' compensation is insurance. Insurance premiums go up for a business after an employee makes a claim. Sadly, the first order of business is its profit and loss statement. If the company is public, it also answers to shareholders, all of whom are sensitive to investment returns. Don't be shocked if your company is more concerned about itself than with your injuries.
Can I sue my employer if I'm also in the workers' compensation system in Florida?
There are other options besides workers' compensation for getting benefits. Under Florida Statute chapter 440, an injured worker has up to two years from the date of the accident to file a petition for benefits with the Division of Administrative Hearings. This, of course, is if his definition of “necessary care” and his employer's definition differ. This is when a judge will step in to see what remedies can cure those differences. Additional compensation might be awarded, or the judge might take the side of the employer. If your boss is providing benefits and return-to-work options, that is generally sufficient in meeting the ultimate goal of returning an injured employee to work.
Suing a third party
There may be cases where another party besides your employer, like the manufacturer of a machine used in the course of your work, may be liable for your injuries.
Employers will usually stay out of these cases if you decide to sue that third party, but they may also decide to join in the suit. If your employer knew or should have known about the product's defective condition, however, you could also possibly sue them as well.
If you're fired after filing a workers' compensation claim, you could have a basis for a lawsuit. Florida follows the legal doctrine of “employment-at-will,” which states that, unless otherwise required in a contract, an employer is not required to give advance notice or reason for termination.
However, firing someone for filing a workers' compensation claim is considered a violation of public policy. This was actually codified by the legislature. In Florida Statutes chapter 440.205, it states that:
“No employer shall discharge, threaten to discharge, intimidate, or coerce any employee by reason of such employee's valid claim for compensation or attempt to claim compensation under the Workers' Compensation Law.”
The legislature realized that the wrongful termination of employees for filing health claims would lead to a chilling effect among workers.
Bad faith lawsuits against workers' compensation insurers
Workers' compensation carriers in Florida must investigate an employee's claim, or pay the benefits he or she is due under state law. If insurance companies don't perform this fundamental duty, or if they mislead the employee in any way, this is considered to be an action of “bad faith” for which they can be sued for both economic (medical costs/lost wages) and non-economic (pain and suffering) damages.
Florida allows you to sue the insurance company if it takes the following types of actions:
- Does not investigate a workers' compensation claim in a timely manner
- Intentionally delays paying benefits
- Misleads an injured worker seeking compensation after a workplace injury
- Makes a claim contrary to what their investigation reveals
- Hides or manipulates evidences
- Tries to dictate the type of medical care provided to an injured worker
- Cuts off benefits in violation of Florida workers' compensation law
Remember that workers' compensation benefits can be useful – even lifesaving at times – but the amounts can be quite low, and you don't get paid for your pain and suffering. It can help to talk to an attorney who is well versed in Florida law and knows how the system works.
How to find the best worker's compensation attorney for your case
It is very important to do a lot of research and choose a worker's compensation lawyer with many years of experience in this type of legal work. Worker's comp law is highly specialized and requires an attorney with experience; many lawyers don't even bother trying to learn it, as it's not even taught in school. There also are unique procedural issues that come up in these types of cases.
- Learn more about getting social security disability benefits for your injuries
- Information on bad faith lawsuits in insurance companies
- Florida construction sites guide
- Personal injury laws in Florida
- Find a Florida attorney today