Business Insurance reported yesterday that the association Florida Workers’ Advocates has petitioned the Florida Supreme Court to review “Padgett”; a case that challenged the constitutionality of Florida’s workers compensation system. Last year Miami Dade Circuit Court Judge Jorge Cueto’s ruled that the state’s workers comp system was unconstitutional citing continual erosion of benefits for injured workers over many years. Cueto declared that this meant the state system no longer provides “an adequate exclusive replacement remedy” versus remedies available through the tort system. 

Florida’s 3rd District Court of Appeal unanimously reversed the decision earlier this summer. Somewhat significantly, the 3rd DCA did not rule on constitutionality of the Florida comp system. Instead they simply declared the plaintiffs in the case lacked standing to challenge the constitutionality of the law.

This, of course left an opening for the request for review by the State Supremes. That move was not unexpected by people who have been watching this case. Whether the court will actually pick up the baton, however, is the basis of much more varied speculation. The general feeling from those opposing Padgett is betting that they will decline the request to review. Those supporting the case fervently hope that they will opt to review.

If I were a betting man, I would say the Supreme Court passes on the opportunity. If they do review the case, I think Padgett will not prevail.

Of course, I am about as good at prognostications as I am at subtlety, so you may want to bet against the house on this one. 

Padgett has been an interesting case to watch, as from a purely technical perspective it is (in my humble opinion) a relatively insignificant case. For all practical purposes it was a “case in search of a litigant”, as the plaintiffs of record today are not the ones it started with (the initial case was Julio Cortes v. Velda Farms L.L.C.). There is controversy over potential notification to the defendant, the State of Florida, and until the Third DCA overturned it, it only affected any cases that came before Judge Cueto; and he is not a workers’ comp judge. 

From a broader perspective, however, the message that Padgett sends should be loud and clear; Exclusive Remedy is under attack, and by cutting benefits for injured workers beyond reasonable levels, states are giving it’s opponents all the weaponry they need. Padgett is a warning that we best heed. The Florida Supreme Court could surprise me, and pick up the case and toss WC on it’s ear. What is more likely is that Padgett won’t prevail, but will ultimately be proven to be simply the first round in a much more extended fight. The Florida Plaintiff’s Bar is a persistent lot, and there are highly vulnerable elements of Florida’s decade old reforms. 

We should be paying attention, and working to make the system right. For everyone.

So, here in the Sunshine State we wait with baited breath once again. Padgett is one of three cases the state has been watching, but in many ways represents the ultimate long shot that could most dramatically alter the landscape if it manages to get ahead of the pack, and win it’s race against the system.


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