Black v. Tomoka State Park and Division of Risk Management/State of Florida decision

In this case, the claimant appealed the JCC’s denial of future benefits on the basis of the statutory of limitations.  The Court found that the claimant had previously filed a Petition for Benefits (compliant with the Florida Statutes) asserting claims for medical benefits and claims for attorney’s fees and costs.  The claim for medical benefits was ultimately resolved and the claimant voluntarily dismissed the Petition.  Importantly, however, claimant’s dismissal reserved on entitlement to attorney’s fee.  The outstanding claims for fees and costs were not thereafter resolved.

The Court analogized the facts presented in Black to those of its recent decision in Longley v. Miami-Dade School Board.  In Longley, however, the Petition was never formally “dismissed”; rather, that claimant simply notified the mediator by correspondence that the issues had resolved.  As in the Black case, however, the claimant in Longley had reserved on entitlement to an attorney’s fee.  Thus, as the Court did in Longley, the panel in Black ultimately determined that the outstanding claim for fees and costs continued to toll the statute of limitations such that the pending Petition was not barred by same.

This decision is certainly troubling, as it is quite common for a claimant’s attorney to voluntarily dismiss a Petition for Benefits and reserve as to entitlement to a fee (even in instances where there is clearly no entitlement to same).  Thus, there will be numerous instances wherein a claimant might go several years without receiving benefits under workers’ compensation; so long as entitlement to a fee remains at issue, however, a denial based upon the statute of limitations will likely not be successful.  Prior to this decision, it was our understanding that the statute would no longer be tolled upon a dismissal of a Petition.  This was to be distinguished from the situation in Longley wherein there was no dismissal; rather, claimant simply advised the mediator that the issues had been resolved such that the mediation could be cancelled.  Unfortunately, it is apparent that the First District Court of Appeal does not appreciate the distinction in these scenarios.

We note that the Court recently denied the E/SA’s Motion for Rehearing; thus, unless the E/SA is successful in having the Florida Supreme Court exercise jurisdiction over the claim, this Order will be come final in the very near future.  We think it important to review our files in light of this decision and will be in touch with you to discuss your options in more detail.  Of course, if any questions or concerns might arise in the interim, please do not hesitate to contact us.