Waffle House v. Hutchinson

Decision Date26 April 1996
Docket NumberNo. 95-1097,95-1097
Citation673 So.2d 883
Parties21 Fla. L. Weekly D1018 WAFFLE HOUSE and O'Steen Adjusting Services, Appellants, v. Lecia HUTCHINSON, Appellee.
CourtFlorida District Court of Appeals

An appeal from a workers' compensation order; Michael J. DeMarko, Judge of Compensation Claims.

J. Craig Knox and Marjorie M. Cain of Fuller, Johnson & Farrell, P.A., Tallahassee, for Appellants.

Larry Hill and Yancey F. Langston of Moore, Hill, Westmoreland, Hook & Bolton, Pensacola, for Appellee.

ZEHMER, Chief Judge.

Waffle House and O'Steen Adjusting Services (Waffle House) appeal the final order of the judge of compensation claims ruling Lecia Hutchinson's claim compensable by operation of subsection 440.192(8), Florida Statutes (Supp.1994). Waffle House argues that subsection 440.192(8) is a substantive enactment and the judge therefore erred in applying it retroactively to Hutchinson's claim that arose prior to the enactment's January 1, 1994, effective date. We affirm.

Subsection 440.192(8) provides as follows:

(8) Within 14 days after receipt of a petition for benefits by certified mail, the carrier must either pay the requested benefits without prejudice to its right to deny within 120 days from receipt of the petition or file a notice of denial with the division. The carrier must list all benefits requested but not paid and explain its justification for nonpayment in the notice of denial. A carrier that does not deny compensability in accordance with s. 440.20(4) is deemed to have accepted the employee's injuries as compensable, unless it can establish material facts relevant to the issue of compensability that could not have been discovered through reasonable investigation within the 120-day period. The carrier shall provide copies of the notice to the filing party, employer, and claimant by certified mail.

In the present case, Hutchinson was allegedly injured in an industrial accident on November 19, 1993, while employed with the Waffle House. She filed her notice of injury on December 2, 1993. Waffle House filed a notice of denial 14 days later on December 16. Hutchinson next filed her initial petition for benefits on June 23, 1994, and thereafter filed amended petitions in September and October 1994. Waffle House did not file notices of denial with respect to these petitions however, nor did it at any time commence payment of compensation. At the final hearing held on January 26, 1995, the judge of compensation claims sua sponte raised the issue of the applicability of subsection 440.192(8) and ruled that even though Waffle House timely filed an initial notice of denial in December 1993, its failure to file a second notice after the filing of Hutchinson's petition for benefits subjected it to the "deemed compensable" provision of subsection (8). Specifically, the judge interpreted subsection (8) to mean that if an employer fails to deny compensability within 14 days of the filing of the petition for benefits, it is deemed to have accepted compensability. In so ruling, the judge also rejected Waffle House's argument that the provision is substantive and therefore prospective in effect, holding simply that the provisions of subsection (8) "constitute a significant change in the workers' compensation law but the changes are procedural and not substantive."

Subsection 440.192(8) does not impact the substantive rights of the parties or alter their statutory entitlement to benefits. Town of Jupiter v. Andreff, 656 So.2d 1374 (Fla. 1st DCA 1995). Rather, it merely alters the process by which the judge of compensation claims makes a determination of the parties' rights or otherwise affects the parties' burden of proof. Id. at 1377; Litvin v. St. Lucie County Sheriff's Department, 599 So.2d 1353 (Fla. 1st DCA), rev. denied, 613 So.2d 6 (Fla.1992), cert. denied, 508 U.S. 913, 113 S.Ct. 2350, 124 L.Ed.2d 258 (1993).

We have already observed that "a carrier that neither pays nor timely denies compensability 'is deemed to have accepted the employee's injuries as compensable' " under subsection 440.192(8). City of Crestview v. Howard, 657 So.2d 73 (Fla. 1st DCA 1995) (emphasis added). 1 Certainly, the penalty should be no less stringent for a carrier who does nothing after the filing of a petition for benefits. While the measure, in the words of the judge of compensation claims, may be "draconian," the clear intent of the legislature in enacting the measure is to radically streamline the claims process to ensure a speedy determination of the contested issues while providing a formidable deterrent for sloth.

We reject any notion that Waffle House was denied due process by the judge's raising this defect himself. Waffle House was given a fair opportunity to argue the issue and to correct the record by producing a second notice of denial, if one existed. Furthermore, the issue was extensively briefed on appeal and orally argued. Waffle House failed to show that it complied with the provisions of subsection 440.192(8) and therefore was properly deemed by operation of the statute to have...

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13 cases
  • Childers v. State
    • United States
    • Florida District Court of Appeals
    • June 28, 2006
    ...N. River Ins. Co. v. Wuelling, 683 So.2d 1090, 1092 (Fla. 1st DCA 1996) ("[W]e recede from our decision in Waffle House v. Hutchinson, 673 So.2d 883 (Fla. 1st DCA 1996). . . ."); Singletary v. Jones, 681 So.2d 836, 837 (Fla. 1st DCA 1996) ("Because the department is questioning the ruling i......
  • Childers v. State
    • United States
    • Florida District Court of Appeals
    • June 28, 2006
    ...N. River Ins. Co. v. Wuelling, 683 So.2d 1090, 1092 (Fla. 1st DCA 1996) ("[W]e recede from our decision in Waffle House v. Hutchinson, 673 So.2d 883 (Fla. 1st DCA 1996)...."); Singletary v. Jones, 681 So.2d 836, 837 (Fla. 1st DCA 1996) ("Because the department is questioning the ruling in B......
  • Russell Corp. v. Brooks
    • United States
    • Florida District Court of Appeals
    • September 12, 1997
    ...costs, and attorney's fees. In entering this compensation order, the judge of compensation claims relied on Waffle House v. Hutchinson, 673 So.2d 883 (Fla. 1st DCA 1996), review denied, 683 So.2d 486 (Fla.1996), which we have since repudiated, originally in North River Insurance Company v. ......
  • Alachua County Bd. of County Com'rs v. Starling
    • United States
    • Florida District Court of Appeals
    • September 18, 1997
    ...notice of denial of compensability was not timely filed. In deeming the condition compensable, the JCC relied on Waffle House v. Hutchinson, 673 So.2d 883 (Fla. 1st DCA 1996), review denied, 683 So.2d 486 (Fla.1996), and did not have the benefit of this court's opinion in North River Insura......
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