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Constitutionality of workers' comp system challenged

Both employers and worker advocates around the country have been following a Florida workers' compensation case. The central issue, as far as analysts and legal commentators are concerned, is the constitutionality of the basic premise of the workers' comp system -- that is, that worker's comp is the sole remedy available to injured workers.

The case has a complicated procedural history that has derailed the constitutionality question for the moment. In June, an appellate court ruled that the workers advocacy groups challenging the law lacked standing. The court also said that the case was moot, that there was no case or controversy to decide. The advocacy groups quickly requested that the Florida Supreme Court review the appellate decision. The court has asked for additional documentation, but whether the case will be added to the docket is unclear.

Before we get into the details, let's back up a little to explain some of the legal terms we are using.

Case or controversy. Litigation is all about settling disputes. You slip and fall on your neighbor's sidewalk, and you want him to pay your medical bills. He says it is not his fault. You say it is. You agree to have a neutral third party -- the court -- decide the matter. Your insurance company says the accident is not covered, but you think it is. After going through all the grievance procedures, you haven't settled the argument. You ask the court to decide. These are cases or controversies, and a lawsuit can only move forward if there is a case or controversy to be settled.

That's just one part of a lawsuit, though. Focusing on personal injury, say you weren't physically hurt when you fell on your neighbor's sidewalk. Your neighbor hurt your feelings, though, by calling you a klutz and making fun of you. It's Rudolph and the reindeer games all over again. You want to sue.

A personal injury case is about making the plaintiff whole. Your neighbor may be a jerk, but you haven't suffered a loss because of his callous disregard for your feelings and your pride. You don't have a case or controversy.

What would happen if you were physically injured, and your neighbor took you to the hospital and paid all of your medical bills?

We'll answer the question in our next post.

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