Under the Florida Workers’ Compensation Act, if a worker dies as the result of a compensable injury, the worker’s dependents are entitled to certain benefits. The benefits are compensation up to be $150, 000, funeral expenses, and, under certain circumstances, educational benefits for the spouse. In order to be a compensable, death must result from the accident within one year. If death does not occur after one year, benefits are awarded only if follows continuous disability and occurs five years after the accident. In occupational disease cases, the window is slightly greater (within 350 weeks; roughly six and three quarter years after the date of last exposure).
If the death does not occur within one year, it must occur within five years (excluding exposure cases) of “continuous disability”. There has been litigation over the meaning of this term, and the Florida Supreme County has held that there must be continuous suffering from the injury. However, the Court has held that a statement from a doctor that a claimant was “never the same since the accident” was a sufficient showing. In re Lupola, 293 So.2d 354 (Fla. 1974).
Of course, the legislature’s cap of five years is completely arbitrary, and has been attacked. However, the Supreme Court has held the cap is not unconstitutional. To illustrate the impact of the cap, consider the case of Leslie Newton. Mr. Newton sustained a compensable work comp accident on April 30, 1973, while in the employment of McCotter Motors, Inc. As a result of this accident, he underwent multiple back surgeries which required bed rest. Because of the bed rest, he developed thrombophlebitis of his legs for which condition he was treated with anticoagulation therapy to thin his blood and to prevent clotting. Resulting from this therapy, he sustained several episodes of internal bleeding. His condition was further complicated by back pain, depression, and reactive hypertension. He was continuously disabled from the date of his accident until his death on May 5, 1982, which resulted from cerebral hemorrhage. His wife applied for dependency death benefits under the Workers’ Compensation Act as his widow. The employer/carrier contested the claim on the basis that the death occurred more than five years following the accident and that her claim was therefore barred by section 440.16(1).
Refusing to enforce section 440.16 because he determined that application of this statute to this case would produce an unconstitutional result, the deputy commissioner awarded benefits to Betty Newton. The First District reversed and upheld the constitutionality of section 440.16(1) against challenges that it denied due process of the law, to-wit: access to the courts, and denied equal protection of the law. The Supreme Court agreed with the First DCA in this regard. Newton v. McCotter Motors, Inc., 475 So.2d 230 (Fla. 1985).
If you have questions about Florida work comp death benefits or have questions for a workers comp attorney in Tampa, Fl, please do not hesitate to contact us to speak with an experienced Tampa work comp lawyer today. We offer free consultations, and there is never a fee if we don’t recover benefits on your behalf.