Court's move to rehear workers' compensation case 'rare,' judge says

By Deana Carpenter | Aug 1, 2016

TALLAHASSEE – Florida’s 1st District Court of Appeal recently reheard a case involving worker’s compensation, a move a judge said is rare.

TGH Rentals and Sales of Clearwater v. Arnold was reheard July 6. The court, in its decision, stated, “We affirm, in part, and reverse and remand for further proceedings in accordance with this opinion.”

The case was an appeal from an order of the Judge of Compensation Claims Stephen Rosen. It involved appellee James Arnold, who in 2013 injured his back and right knee on the job.

After his injury, Arnold filed five petitions for medical and indemnity benefits for both injuries. However, by the time of the final hearing, Arnold focused on only his right knee injury.

Arnold’s employer denied his benefits based on misrepresentation after it presented video surveillance and testimony from doctors who testified that he allegedly had not been truthful with them.

David Langham, deputy chief judge of compensation claims for the Florida Office of Judges of Compensation Claims and Division of Administration Hearings, said the court of appeals took on the case because it is obligated to do so.

“This court is the constitutional court that hears all workers’ compensation appeals in Florida,” Langham told the Florida Record.

The appellate court has two roles of note - the first is deciding the case before it and the second is giving guidance and analysis that tells the public the workings of a particular law.

“The rarity is the rehearing. For the court to make a decision and then return to the analysis and render a different decision is rare,” Langham said.

He said the in the Arnold case, his employer raises a “misrepresentation defense” in that it claimed Arnold did not tell the truth.

In any case, an affirmative defense must be raised with specificity.

“Specificity is a developing issue in affirmative defenses. If you have a work accident, a defense may be ‘She did not work here,’ or ‘She never tripped as she said,’” Langham said.

An affirmative defense is something the employer must prove, meaning that the accident did happen and did cause an injury.

“But for some reason, the employer can prove there should be no compensation, such as ‘she was intoxicated’ or ‘she made misrepresentations,’” Langham said.

Langham said if the trial judge will issue another order complying with the court’s instructions, that must be done within 20 days of the court’s mandate.

“I am not aware of that mandate having been issued,” Langham said.

He said the appellate court made its decision and it has been published.

“Then, after a period of time to allow the parties to complain about the decision, by asking for rehearing or by seeking discretionary review by the Supreme Court, then the mandate issues that tells the judge to act further,” Langham said.

The impact is not earth-shattering, he said.

He said the decision does reinforce what the rule says in that if asserting an affirmative defense, it should be done so with specificity.

“For those that represent the workers, the message is: if you find a lack of specificity, complain about that early, file a motion for greater specificity. In that way, they will learn the details and be prepared to either explain or rebut them,” Langham said.

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