Sunday, October 18, 2015

Workers' Compensation Section: Big Things to Come This Year

By Anthony V. Cortese

     This year, we will have speakers presenting seminars addressing dramatic changes and issues in state workers’ compensation law, on immunity issues, on methods of medical treatment, and on unprecedented changes to the rules governing the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act and Defense Base Act. Watch your email, this magazine, and the HCBA Weekly Update for dates and times. In the meantime, discovery limits have been hot topics.

     The most recent relevant discovery decision came from the Second District in Mueller v. Wal-Mart Stores, 164 So. 3d (Fla. 2d DCA 2015). The claimant, who was hit by a truck, filed a negligence claim in 2012 and objected to a discovery order compelling release of his entire military file after an honorable discharge in 1993. The claimant argued this was an invasion of his right to privacy and requested at a minimum that the court conduct an in-camera inspection of the file before requiring disclosure. The Second District agreed and directed that the lower court conduct an in-camera inspection and segregate any private documents that were not relevant to Mueller’s negligence action from the relevant documents.

     An earlier decision on social media was announced in Root v. Balfour Beatty Construction, 132 So. 3d 867 (Fla. 2d DCA 2014). In that case, a 3-year-old child was struck by a vehicle. During discovery, the trial court ordered the child's mother to produce Facebook material relating to her relationship with all of her children, not just the injured 3-year-old, and with other family members, boyfriends, husbands, and/or significant others, both before and after the accident. There was no temporal limitation on the production. The Second District overturned the trial court, noting that this was the kind of carte blanche discovery that the Florida Supreme Court warned against in Allstate Insurance v. Langston, 655 So. 2d 91, 95 (Fla. 1995). “[W]e do not believe that a litigant is entitled to carte blanche irrelevant discovery.”
     Appellate cases before the Florida Supreme Court will dramatically affect the practice both in terms of indemnity benefits, Westphal v. City of St. Petersburg, 122 So. 3d 440 (Fla. 1st DCA 2013), cert. granted, and in terms of attorney fee awards, Castellanos v. Next Door, 124 So. 3d 392, (Fla. 1st DCA 2014), cert. granted. There are also medical procedures that are becoming mainstream, such as minimally invasive spine surgery and stem-cell injection procedures for the knee and shoulder. The importance of tort remedies available to injured workers was illustrated by a favorable jury verdict for a plaintiff earlier this year in Robert Matthews v. Mosaic Fertilizer, Case No. 10-CA-009268 Circuit Court, Hillsborough County, FL (verdict docketed on March 30, 2015.) The Longshore and Defense Base Act Rules of Procedure were dramatically revised this year and will have a major impact on that practice. We will offer seminars and speakers on each of these topics this coming year. We hope to see you then.