The firm’s Sarasota partner recently scored a major victory in a complex Florida workers’ compensation case. The claim was brought by a former employee of the State of Florida Department of Corrections, who had sustained a traumatic motor vehicle accident in 2007. The accident had rendered the employee a paraplegic. During the ensuing years, the State had purchased and replaced several handicap-equipped vans for the employee. The employee claimed that her current van, a 2016 Toyota Sienna, also needed to be replaced because it was not functioning properly. The State defended on the grounds that the purchase of a new van was not supported by the evidence, and that it was neither reasonable nor medically necessary.
The Judge of Compensation Claims analyzed the medical and lay testimony, which included an opinion from a van salesman that the Toyota van needed to be replaced. The employee’s authorized treating physician and a licensed mental health counselor both concurred with the salesman’s opinion. The State moved to strike portions of the salesman’s testimony because it did not satisfy the Daubert standard as contained within the Florida Evidence Code. The Judge struck some of the salesman’s opinions. The Judge also concluded that certain other parts of the salesman’s testimony were unsupported by other evidence in the case. Inasmuch as the doctor and mental health counselor had based their opinions upon the salesman’s defective opinions, the Judge found those professionals’ opinions also to be unsupported. In essence, the Judge determined that the employee had failed to carry her burden of proof. The employee’s case was not helped by the fact that she admitted at trial on cross-examination that she had used the van on the morning of trial to drive to a retail store to purchase a computer mouse so that she could attend the trial via Zoom.
The case underscores the importance of mounting an aggressive, thorough defense. Although a sympathetic employee may have an advantage in certain workers’ compensation litigation, experienced defense counsel can overcome that advantage by using effective discovery techniques and trial strategies.
The Final Compensation Order was entered Sept. 5, 2023, in the case of Washburn v. DeSoto Department of Corrections & State of Florida Division of Risk Management, OJCC Case No. 09-004743JPM.