Is a Workplace Shooting a Job-Related Injury?
A debate as to whether workers’ compensation covers workplace injuries or work-caused injuries could be headed to the state Supreme Court.
The case concerns a 2019 incident at an airport car rental agency. At the end of his shift late one night, the job injury victim was walking from the rental car kiosk to an outside office when a man emerged from a darkened area and shot him at least seven times at close range. Investigators didn’t find the shooter and couldn’t determine a motive.
When the man filed a workers’ compensation claim, the insurance company claimed the shooting stemmed from a simmering conflict between a man known as Robert Aponte and the injured worker’s son. The day before, his son and the youth’s mother had been physically confronted by Aponte and another person over an alleged debt. The victim’s lawyers pointed out that three employees of the rental firm had been fired in the weeks preceding the shooting.
An Administrative Law Judge approved the claim but an appeals court panel reversed that decision. In doing so, it certified the following question: “When an act of a third-party tortfeasor is the sole cause of an injury to an employee who is in the course and scope of employment, can the tortfeasor’s act satisfy the occupational causation element … necessary for compensability?”
Either the full court of appeals or the state Supreme Court will answer that question.
Non-Work Injuries Covered by Workers’ Compensation
Traditionally, the Florida Workers’ Compensation Act broadly defines work-related injuries to include some wounds that many people, especially insurance adjusters, wouldn’t consider work related.
A pre-existing condition that contributes to a work-related injury might be the best example. A Tampa workers’ compensation attorney can still obtain maximum benefits in these cases, if the pre-existing condition aggravated the work-related injury, as opposed to the other way around, or the pre-existing condition didn’t substantially contribute to the work-related injury.
Assume Sam hurt his back in high school and the condition lingers into his early adult years, when he becomes a warehouse worker. The constant bending, stooping, keeling, and reaching gives him a repetitive stress muscle disorder. His bad back contributed to the problem. It prevented him from bending, stooping, keeling, and reaching properly.
A company doctor might insist that the repetitive stress aggravated the bad back, and therefore benefits are unavailable. In such situations, a Tampa workers’ compensation lawyer usually partners with an independent doctor, who has a much different opinion.
Or, assume Sam lost his hearing at work. His bad back may have partially contributed to his hearing loss, since he couldn’t quickly move away from noisy locations. But his bad back didn’t substantially contribute to his hearing loss.
Furthermore, Florida law broadly defines work-related as any activity that benefits an employer in any way. If Jill breaks her leg at the company softball game, benefits are usually available. Softball games benefit bosses. Happy and healthy workers are more productive workers. Furthermore, the free advertising (name on the jersey) benefits the company.
Employers usually cannot contest the liability portion of a workers’ compensation claim. But they can and do contest the amount of benefits available.
Medical bills are the best example. Under the law, an insurance company must pay all reasonably necessary medical bills. Most insurance company adjusters believe that “reasonably necessary” is the same thing as “cheapest available.” That’s usually not the case. All victims don’t respond to the same injury treatment in the same way. That’s especially true if the victim has a pre-existing condition.
In Sam’s case, rest and physical therapy might manage many repetitive stress disorder illnesses. But due to his bad back, he might require additional treatment, which the workers’ compensation insurance company must pay for.
The same issues apply to lost wage replacement. Some victims recover quickly and some recover slowly. The lost wage replacement benefit must reflect the victim’s ability to go back to work, not the average person’s ability to go back to work.
Incidentally, this benefit is not only backward looking. It’s also forward looking. If a job injury forces them to miss work, victims deserve compensation for their current lost wages, but also for lost future performance bonuses and missed scheduled pay increases.
Rely on a Diligent Hillsborough County Attorney
Injury victims are entitled to important financial benefits. For a free consultation with an experienced job injury lawyer in Tampa, contact Kobal Law. We routinely handle matters throughout the Sunshine State.