2nd DCA HOLDS THAT STATE COURTS HAVE JURISDICTION TO HEAR DEBT COLLECTION HARASSMENT LAWSUITS BROUGHT BY INJURED WORKERS AGAINST WORKERS’ COMP MEDICAL PROVIDERS OVER ERRONEOUS BILLS
By Richard K. Peck, IV, Esq., FWA Sponsor
On October 16, 2019, in Davis v. Sheridan Healthcare, 2019 Fla. App. LEXIS 15461 (Fla. 2d DCA 2019), the 2nd DCA reversed two Hillsborough County Circuit Court opinions which had found that Florida’s Workers’ Compensation Law, more specifically 440.13(11)(c), granted exclusive jurisdiction to the Department of Financial Services for all billing related complaints related to bills subject to Workers’ Comp. The two lower courts granted judgment on the pleadings to the two respective medical providers and held that the court did not have jurisdiction to hear an injured worker’s claims brought under the Florida Consumer Collection Practices Act (FCCPA) in light of the existence and wording of the Workers’ Compensation Statute. The Hillsborough Court rulings meant that an injured worker could not sue a medical provider over receipt of bills for which the injured worker had zero responsibility to pay.
The 2nd DCA analyzed both the Workers’ Compensation Statute and the FCCPA and rejected the holding of the two lower courts. In doing so the 2nd DCA concluded that the FCCPA and the Workers’ Compensation Statute can be read in harmony with one another by allowing courts to refer to Fla. Stat. 440 to determine the legitimacy of the debts in FCCPA actions. The 2nd DCA also found that the FCCPA was a more specific statute whose intended purpose was to address debt collection practices. As such, it would appear very clear now that when an injured worker brings an FCCPA claim in state court for being billed for a debt which they do not owe the state court would have jurisdiction.
For the past four years I have had the privilege of consistently filing many FCCPA cases on behalf of clients who were referred to me by over 20 FWA members, and only in rare circumstances did the argument which was the subject of the appeal in Davis actually get raised by the defense. Nevertheless, when the argument was raised by the medical providers, they had the ability to cite the two rulings which have now been reversed by the 2nd DCA. The 2nd DCA did certify this issue to the Florida Supreme Court as part of its holding, but for now, injured workers can declare victory in a battle which if decided the opposite way, would have likely eliminated their ability to file a lawsuit and seek compensation for being wrongfully billed for debts which legally they do not owe.
If an injured worker is successful in an FCCPA action, the injured worker is entitled to seek relief in the form of up to a $1,000.00 statutory penalty, in addition to any actual damages, as well as punitive damages if the collection conduct is malicious enough. Further, under the FCCPA, the injured worker is entitled to recover attorney’s fees and costs.
If you have any questions about the Davis case, the interplay between the FCCPA and Workers’ Comp, or what types of billing issues might reflect an FCCPA violation, feel free to contact me.
Richard K. Peck, IV, Esq.