The 1st District Court of Appeal has held that illegal immigrants are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits in Florida.
The opinion said a company that “knowingly employs unlawful labor should not be able to shirk the cost of the injuries it creates — and in turn shift the cost of the damages it has knowingly created on the taxpaying public — ultimately placing it in an unfairly superior financial position to those employers who operate lawfully.”
The Matter of Luis Aragon reached the 1st DCA, following a 2007 accident in which
Aragon who was working construction in Jacksonville, fell 30 feet off a roof at a job site. Mr. Aragon sustained a fracture in his left foot and forearm. He was diagnosed with complex regional pain syndrome in his foot accompanied by constant pain, nerve injury and discoloration, and a spinal cord stimulator was implanted.
Luis Aragon was an illegal immigrant who crossed the U.S. border at age 16 in search of work. Aragon, now 27, did not have a Social Security number or a green card that denotes permanent-resident status.
That accident led to a legal fight that culminated last week with the 1st District Court of Appeal sending a clear message that illegal immigrants are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits in Florida.
“Although there is no shortage of debate that can be had on the issue of illegal labor and its effect on our state, there is no dispute that the Florida Legislature has expressed an unyielding, textual intent that aliens, including those who are illegal and unlawfully employed, be covered and compensated under the Florida Workers’ Compensation Law,” an unsigned opinion issued by a three-judge panel said, citing a 1985 decision.
The Tallahassee judges considering an appeal from a compensation claims the decision also noted the administrative court’s determination the company that employed Aragon, HDV Construction Systems, knew or should have known he was an undocumented worker.
They also said the workers’ compensation system is designed to help shield taxpayers from picking up the costs of injured workers.
The judges pointed out the fact that these employers who knowingly hired illegal worker’s, and then used that as a defense to payment of workers compensation benefits, places an unfair burden on the taxpayers of this state.
The only negative news in this victory is the very limited nature of workers compensation benefits. An injured worker is entitled to medical care-provided by the employer/carrier. However, the doctor providing the care is chosen by the employer/carrier and for all intended purposes is beholden to the employer/carrier.
In addition to getting sub standard medical care, an injured worker can also look forward to receiving indemnity benefits-which amount to 66.66 percent of his/her average weekly wage. However, these benefits are only payable if the employer/carrier selected physician says that the injured worker cannot work, or can only work light duty and the employer does not have light duty work available.
After clearing the above hurdles, one can only hope that the insurance company will pay the benefits they are supposed to, because if they do not-there is only a minimal penalty, and no attorney’s fee provision.
For this we have former Governor Jeb Bush to thank.