The First District Court of Appeals recently rendered a decision that is
consistent with prior rulings regarding the payment of benefits for a
mental or nervous injury stemming form a compensable physical accident in
Utopia Home Care/Guarantee Insurance Company v. Beatriz Alvarez.
The Florida Statute that was analyzed in
Alvarez was the following:
Section 440.093(3): Subject to the payment of permanent benefits under
s. 440.15, in no event shall temporary benefits for a compensable mental
or nervous injury be paid for more than 6 months after the date of maximum
medical improvement for the injured employee’s physical injury or
injuries, which shall be included in the period of 104 weeks as provided
in s. 440.15(2) and (4). Mental or nervous injuries are compensable only
in accordance with the terms of this section.
Alvarez, the First DCA explained that the first part of the statute, “[s]ubject
to the payment of permanent benefits under s. 440.15,” requires
a connection between mental or nervous injuries and an underlying compensable
physical injury that is permanent in nature. The First DCA noted that
Section 440.15 provides for payment of permanent benefits for permanent
total disability or for permanent impairments remaining after the date
of MMI. § 440.15(1), (3) Fla. Stat. (2011). The First DCA then concluded
that when a claimant attains physical MMI and
the physical injury qualifies for a permanency rating, the claimant is
entitled to, and “subject to the payment of permanent benefits” under, section 440.15. (emphasis added)
The Court rejected the claimant’s arguments in
Alvarez that section 440.093(3) does not apply because it applies only to claimants
who are receiving permanent impairment benefits during the weeks in which
they would be receiving the temporary psychiatric disability payments.
The Court indicated that under claimant’s argument, the temporary
psychiatric disability benefits that the Legislature intended to limit
would instead become unlimited.
The First DCA further explained that the portion of the Florida Statute,
Section 440.093(3), at question is the following: “in no event shall
temporary benefits for a compensable mental or nervous injury be paid
for more than six months after the date of maximum medical improvement
for the injured employee’s physical injury or injuries.” The
question that the Court was faced with was whether this was a six-month
“bank of time” or whether it was calendar based and begun
upon physical maximum medical improvement and ended six months later.
In 2008, the Court rejected the “bank of time” argument in the case
School Board of Lee County v. Huben, due to the plain language of the statute and opined similarly in this
case. The Court noted that the correct six month time frame is calendar
based and begins on the date that physical maximum medical improvement
is assigned. In
Alvarez, the Court noted that this may seem unfair and possibly in discord with
the purpose of the workers’ compensation law but the Court further
noted that this limitation on temporary psychiatric benefits has justification
and is not unreasonable on it’s face.
This may be an issue that is consistently brought upon appeal due to the
argument of unfairness for the claimant. However, this is a matter that
is unlikely to change unless the Legislature decides to amend the current statute.