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Employer Liability for Intentional Torts in Florida

Most of the time, when an employee is injured in the workplace, he or she is not able to sue his or her employer directly, but must instead rely on workers’ compensation. However, there are some circumstances where an injured employee can file a civil tort claim against his or her employer. One circumstance that may lead to a lawsuit arises when the employer is liable for an intentional tort against the employee that resulted in a workplace injury.

Intentional Tort Liability Overview and History

Generally, workers’ compensation in Florida is meant to be the exclusive remedy for employees who are injured at work, meaning that workers’ compensation is usually the only way that employees can get compensated for workplace injuries. In the past, the only exception to this rule was when the employer did not pay his or her workers’ compensation premiums.

However, another exception that the courts carved out and the legislature codified for employees involves intentional torts by the employer. The legislature added this amendment to the workers’ compensation exclusivity law in 2003 after the Florida Supreme Court decided several cases of intentional tort liability for the employer in favor of the plaintiff. This amendment both codified and narrowed the intentional tort law exception.

Statute

In order for an employer to be liable for an intentional tort, an injured employee must prove by “clear and convincing evidence” that:

  1. “The employer deliberately intended to injure the employee; or
  2. The employer engaged in conduct that the employer knew, based on prior similar accidents or on explicit warnings specifically identifying a known danger, was virtually certain to result in injury or death to the employee, and the employee was not aware of the risk because the danger was not apparent and the employer deliberately concealed or misrepresented the danger so as to prevent the employee from exercising informed judgment about whether to perform the work.”

Discussion

As you can see, the exception created by the statute is relatively narrow, and proving an intentional tort is a much higher burden on an employee than proving the necessary elements to collect workers’ compensation. In comparing the statute with the previous court-created exceptions, the Florida Bar Association noticed five main differences:

  1. The evidentiary standard is “clear and convincing” evidence, which is higher than the court’s original standard of “greater weight of the evidence.”
  2. It requires the employer actually knew of the danger, rather than merely should have known.
  3. The statute limits the places that employers must have had knowledge of only “prior similar accidents” or “explicit warnings” instead of just requiring knowledge no matter what the source of that knowledge was.
  4. This statute requires an employer to have “virtual certainty” that the injury will occur. In previous cases the court had rejected this test as too stringent.
  5. The employee must prove that the danger was not apparent and that the employer deliberately withheld information.

Though the statute does differ from the case law before it, so far it appears that Florida courts are comfortable with enforcing the statute as is.

Clearwater Workplace Accident Attorneys

If you have been injured at work and believe the workers’ compensation system is not sufficient for your circumstances, you may be able to file a tort claim against your employer. Our experienced workplace accident attorneys at Roman & Roman, PA in Clearwater, Florida can help you figure out what options are available to you to recover damages for your injuries.

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