The Florida Supreme Court has announced it will hear arguments in the case Daniel Stahl v. Hialeah Hospital. The Stahl case confronts the elimination of elements of partial disability benefits, and is yet another case challenging the exclusive remedy protections of the Florida workers' compensation system. It looks as though we can honestly say that the court will definitely Stahl on comp in 2016.
It will not be their first time doing so.
I raised eyebrows last summer while serving on a blogger's panel when I postulated that we would not see any Florida Supreme Court decisions on two other key Florida cases until sometime in 2016. The cases I was referencing, commonly referred to as “Castellano” and “Westphal”, have been widely watched as foundational challenges to key elements of Florida's 2003 reforms. My assertion that we would not have a decision by the end of 2015 was a surprise for some in the room, as these cases have been before the court for quite some time. Oral arguments for Westphal were held before the court in June 2014, and Castellano's occurred in November 2014. By last summer many Floridian's were anticipating decisions at any time.
Silly Floridian people.
My accurate prognostications on the matter were less derived of skilled intellectual analysis than they were just informed summations. The fact of the matter is that greater legal minds than mine (which is just about anyone) had told me there were signs that the court would not rule on either case before the end of the year.
Florida has been, in effect, in a legal limbo of sorts, as these cases, and an additional one commonly referred to as “Padgett”, had and continue to have the potential to effectively neutralize workers' comp as the exclusive remedy for Florida workers. Westphal is questioning whether Florida's 104-week statutory cap on temporary total disability benefits is unconstitutional, and Castellano is related to the constitutionality of state mandated attorney's fees. Padgett, a case that received the most notoriety, but had, in my opinion, the weakest legal foundations, challenged the constitutionality of the system based on an overall reduction in injured workers' benefits since the implementation of the “Grand Bargain”.
Padgett was put to rest in late December when the Florida Supremes declined to review the case.
I don't understand much of the delay. There is a lot riding on these cases, and frankly, many Floridians doubt the ability of our legislature to promptly (and properly) address any issues created by decisions of the court. Personally I believe at least two of these cases have the potential to go against prevailing law, and may indicate bigger issues regarding exclusive remedy. We are near a turning point in Florida, and the 2003 efforts to curb abuses of the past may be proven to have gone a bit too far.
But until the court actually acts on the cases, we will not know what we do not know. The state continues to wait, but at least we have confirmation that this year, they officially intend to Stahl.
Somehow it feels like that will just make the wait seem longer.