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Supreme Court reverses workers' comp decision

Published June 16, 2006

TALLAHASSEE - An employee hurt on the job does not lose the right to sue an employer by seeking greater workers' compensation benefits or filling out a routine questionnaire, the Florida Supreme Court said Thursday.

The unsigned 7-0 opinion reversed a 1st District Court of Appeal decision and reaffirmed prior rulings in which the justices have found the state's workers' compensation law does not protect an employer from liability for intentional wrongdoing.

The decision reinstates a lawsuit by Curtis Jones against Martin Electronics Inc. of Perry, about 50 miles southeast of Tallahassee.

Jones lost all his fingers and both thumbs and suffered third-degree burns over three-fifths of his body in a workplace explosion.

Workers' compensation is designed to make sure injured employees get certain medical and lost wages benefits regardless of fault, but it bars them from suing for those damages. It does allow lawsuits for punitive damages, pain and suffering and other damages not covered.

Martin argued Jones had waived his right to sue by obtaining a higher hourly rate through workers' compensation to pay his wife for attendant care. That did not amount to "an inconsistent election of remedies," which would have prohibited a lawsuit, the Supreme Court ruled.

The justices also rejected an argument Jones gave up his lawsuit rights by circling "yes" next to the statement "Accident or occupational disease accepted as compensable" on a standard pretrial questionnaire. That "was not enough to constitute a knowing waiver," the high court wrote.

[Last modified June 16, 2006, 07:44:37]

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