A workers’ compensation case from Florida is being appealed to the state’s supreme court. While the case comes from Florida, its claims could impact the process of Missouri’s workers’ compensation laws because of similarities in our workers’ compensation systems.
Failed Shoulder Surgery Leads to Numerous Medical Opinions
The victim was an elementary school worker who partially tore her rotator cuff on the job. The school district accepted responsibility and she had an arthroscopic shoulder surgery. The surgery did not go well, though, and her condition got worse. The team of doctors did not know why and, even though she was not getting better with physical therapy, injections, or other treatments, did not recommend another surgery.
The injured worker got a second opinion. That doctor recommended a surgery. However, he was not in the school district’s network of authorized practitioners, so the worker had to see an independent medical examiner. That examiner also recommended the surgery.
The workers’ compensation judge then appointed an expert medical examiner to resolve the conflict. That expert medical examiner said that there was no reason for the surgery.
Florida’s workers’ compensation law, at Florida Statute 440.13(9)(c), requires judges hearing workers’ compensation cases to presume that expert medical examiners are correct, in the absence of clear and convincing evidence to the contrary.
Based on this statute, the workers’ compensation judge sided with the expert medical examiner and denied the additional surgery. The worker appealed, but the appeals court sided with the judge.
Separation of Powers in Workers’ Compensation Cases
The heart of the injured workers’ appeal is that workers’ compensation laws take decision-making power away from judges, violating the state constitution. By passing a law requiring judges to presume expert medical examiners were correct, the legislature was putting itself in the judge’s place to decide who to believe. This essentially forced the judge into a pre-written decision – a decision written by the legislature.
The problem is that workers’ compensation law is rife with examples of judges being twisted into specific decisions. As we saw in the recent Missouri Supreme Court case dealing with the Second Injury Fund, the Missouri legislature has required judges to “strictly construe” the law against injured workers.
While the problem seems theoretical, it has practical and severe repercussions. When the legislature mandates how judges can rule on a case, it allows business interests to put themselves in positions that influence the outcome. For example, when expert medical examiners are presumed to be correct, employers who want to stop workers’ compensation cases from getting anywhere simply fill those roles with doctors who will deny that a worker needs medical care.
St. Joseph Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at the Smith Law Office
The workers’ compensation and personal injury lawyers at the Smith Law Office legally represent hurt workers, fighting for their rights to the compensation they deserve. Contact them online or call their law office in St. Joseph at (816) 875-9373.