If you injured yourself at work while not following safety procedures, you may be wondering if filing for workers’ comp is still a viable option. The fast answer is yes, but your indemnity benefits (also known as partial wage replacement) will probably take a hit. In most cases, your compensation for medical treatment will still be covered.
Common examples of neglected safety precautions include failing to wear a hard hat, back brace or safety goggles. But rule violations can also be as basic as standing on a chair instead of a step stool or failing to wear a seatbelt in a work-related car accident. Even in light of personal carelessness, the deciding factor for workers’ comp cases is whether the injury occurred within your scope of employment. If you can establish that your occupation was the cause of your injury, you can still pursue a claim.
In Florida, the penalty for ignoring safety rules is a reduction in wage replacement benefits. The corresponding law – Statue 440.09(5) – reads as follows:
(5) If injury is caused by the knowing refusal of the employee to use a safety appliance or observe a safety rule required by statute or lawfully adopted by the department, and brought prior to the accident to the employee’s knowledge, or if injury is caused by the knowing refusal of the employee to use a safety appliance provided by the employer, the compensation as provided in this chapter shall be reduced 25 percent.
The phrase “knowing refusal” invites some confusion. What if the employer never enforced the safety rule? How do you prove that an employee was unaware of company safety procedures? As with most cases, the devil is in the details. Ultimately, it falls to the specific circumstances of the case to determine whether or not you’ll see a reduction in benefits. As the law states, compensation in this scenario is typically reduced by 25%.
In the end, it’s always best practice to be aware of and follow the safety rules in your workplace. However, if you find yourself in one of the situations described above, don’t assume that you don’t have a valid case. It’s still worth meeting with an attorney to determine whether or not you qualify for compensation. Although you might see a decrease in indemnity benefits, you could still cover a significant portion of your medical bills.
The Florida Supreme Court might revisit a 2009 law reinstating a cap on attorney fees in workers’ compensation cases. It was originally intended to clarify the meaning of “reasonable” compensation by placing a ceiling on fees due to the claimant’s counsel. However, an appeals court is now requesting that the Supreme Court review the law after a workers’ comp lawyer reportedly received $164.54 for 107 hours of work.
The case in question was Marvin Castellanos v. Next Door Co., in which the claimant, Castellanos, was injured during a fight at work in 2009. Although a judge ruled that the 107 hours were “reasonably necessary” to collect benefits for Castellanos, he was still restricted by law from awarding any further compensation to Castellanos’ attorney. The 1st District Court of Appeals upheld the constitutionality of the decision, but requested that the Supreme Court take another look the law and its fee structures.
At this point, it’s unknown whether or not the Florida Supreme Court will take up the case.