Florida Employers and Carriers May Be Subject To Monetary Damage Awards to Claimants in Rule NISI Proceedings Following Recent Appellate Court Decision

Written by: Rayford H. Taylor, Esq.

Circuit court judges in Florida have the authority to require provision of benefits ordered by a jcc but which are found to be willfully withheld.  Trial courts can use a Rule Nisi proceeding to not only order the provision of the benefit being denied, but also impose a monetary award based upon damages sustained by the injured worker because of the failure to provide that benefit.

The case of Zurich American Insurance Company v. Desiree Samson, (2nd DCA May 28, 2021) arose from an Order granting sanctions in a Rule Nisi proceeding to enforce a Final Order in a workers’ compensation case.  Ultimately, the Second District Court of Appeal concluded the Circuit Court had the jurisdiction and authority to award a monetary remedy based upon Zurich’s failure to provide orthopedic treatment to Mr. Samson.  However, the $15,000.00 award was not supported by the evidence.  The Court of Appeal also ruled that the Circuit Court did not commit reversible error in rejecting Samson’s request for a full compensatory disgorgement of profits.

In October 2018, Mr. Samson injured his neck and shoulder when he fell in a trench while working construction.  He filed a petition for workers’ compensation benefits on June 27, 2019.  On July 23, 2019, Zurich filed the response indicating it would arrange orthopedic treatment.  On August 22, 2019, the Judge of Compensation Claims (JCC) entered an order requiring Zurich to “authorize and provide” orthopedic treatment.

After Mr. Samson was not allowed to be seen by the orthopedist on two separate occasions, he filed a Petition for Rule Nisi in the Circuit Court on October 28, 2019.  He requested Zurich be found in civil contempt and the Court impose compensatory disgorgement of profits of 3.75 million dollars, a fine of $37,000.00 (1% of the profits), or a Stop Work Order.  Zurich asserted it had already coordinated treatment by scheduling an appointment on December 2, 2019.

The appellate court found that Zurich had deliberately delayed and withheld necessary orthopedic treatment in a manner which offended the trial court’s judicial conscience.  The trial court determined it was not necessary to impose disgorgement of profits, a daily fine, or a Stop Work Order to enforce future compliance, but did order Zurich to provide treatment at the upcoming December 2, 2019 appointment.  The trial court also ruled that Zurich be fined $15,000.00 to be paid to Samson.

When ruling on a Rule Nisi Petition, the circuit court’s inquiry is limited to determining whether there is a valid workers’ compensation order in effect and whether there was a default of that order.  A trial court may not review the merits of the order entered by the jcc.  However, under Section 440.24(1) Fla. Stat., the trial court also has wide latitude in the enforcement of the compensation order by allowing a writ of execution or other process as may be necessary to enforce the order.  While the trial court could not retroactively provide the benefit that was denied to Mr. Samson, it had jurisdiction to fashion a monetary remedy equivalent to the lost benefit.  In this case, however, the trial court’s imposition of a $15,000.00 fine was not justifiable because there was no evidence that Mr. Samson was deprived of anywhere near $15,000.00 by Zurich’s delay.

The appellate court ruled that while the trial court had the jurisdiction and authority to award a monetary remedy, the amount of the award was not supported by the evidence in this particular case.  The case was therefore remanded with instructions for the trial court to consider what would be a proper award.

For more information on this case, or any other Florida workers’ compensation decision, contact Rayford H. Taylor, Esq., at rtaylor@hallboothsmith.com.

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