(1) Forty days after a petition for benefits is filed under s. 440.192, the judge of compensation claims shall notify the interested parties by order that a mediation conference concerning such petition has been scheduled unless the parties have notified the judge of compensation claims that a private mediation has been held or is scheduled to be held. A mediation, whether private or public, shall be held within 130 days after the filing of the petition. Such order must give the date the mediation conference is to be held. Such order may be served personally upon the interested parties or may be sent to the interested parties by mail. If multiple petitions are pending, or if additional petitions are filed after the scheduling of a mediation, the judge of compensation claims shall consolidate all petitions into one mediation. The claimant or the adjuster of the employer or carrier may, at the mediator’s discretion, attend the mediation conference by telephone or, if agreed to by the parties, other electronic means. A continuance may be granted upon the agreement of the parties or if the requesting party demonstrates to the judge of compensation claims that the reason for requesting the continuance arises from circumstances beyond the party’s control. Any order granting a continuance must set forth the date of the rescheduled mediation conference. A mediation conference may not be used solely for the purpose of mediating attorney’s fees.
(2) Any party who participates in a mediation conference shall not be precluded from requesting a hearing following the mediation conference should both parties not agree to be bound by the results of the mediation conference. A mediation conference is required to be held unless this requirement is waived by the Deputy Chief Judge.
(3) Such mediation conference shall be conducted informally and does not require the use of formal rules of evidence or procedure. Any information from the files, reports, case summaries, mediator’s notes, or other communications or materials, oral or written, relating to a mediation conference under this section obtained by any person performing mediation duties is privileged and confidential and may not be disclosed without the written consent of all parties to the conference. Any research or evaluation effort directed at assessing the mediation program activities or performance must protect the confidentiality of such information. Each party to a mediation conference has a privilege during and after the conference to refuse to disclose and to prevent another from disclosing communications made during the conference whether or not the contested issues are successfully resolved. This subsection and paragraphs (4)(a) and (b) shall not be construed to prevent or inhibit the discovery or admissibility of any information that is otherwise subject to discovery or that is admissible under applicable law or rule of procedure, except that any conduct or statements made during a mediation conference or in negotiations concerning the conference are inadmissible in any proceeding under this chapter.
(a) Unless the parties conduct a private mediation under paragraph (b), mediation shall be conducted by a mediator selected by the Director of the Division of Administrative Hearings from among mediators employed on a full-time basis by the Office of the Judges of Compensation Claims. A mediator must be a member of The Florida Bar for at least 5 years and must complete a mediation training program approved by the Deputy Chief Judge. Adjunct mediators may be employed by the Office of the Judges of Compensation Claims on an as-needed basis and shall be selected from a list prepared by the Director of the Division of Administrative Hearings. An adjunct mediator must be independent of all parties participating in the mediation conference. An adjunct mediator must be a member of The Florida Bar for at least 5 years and must complete a mediation training program approved by the Office of the Judges of Compensation Claims. An adjunct mediator shall have access to the office, equipment, and supplies of the judge of compensation claims in each district.
(b) With respect to any private mediation, if the parties agree or if mediators are not available under paragraph (a), pursuant to notice from the judge of compensation claims, to conduct the required mediation within the period specified in this section, the parties shall hold a mediation conference at the carrier’s expense within the 130-day period set for mediation. The mediation conference shall be conducted by a mediator certified under s. 44.106. If the parties do not agree upon a mediator within 10 days after the date of the order, the claimant shall notify the judge in writing and the judge shall appoint a mediator under this paragraph within 7 days. In the event both parties agree, the results of the mediation conference shall be binding and neither party shall have a right to appeal the results. In the event either party refuses to agree to the results of the mediation conference, the results of the mediation conference as well as the testimony, witnesses, and evidence presented at the conference shall not be admissible at any subsequent proceeding on the claim. The mediator shall not be called in to testify or give deposition to resolve any claim for any hearing before the judge of compensation claims. The employer may be represented by an attorney at the mediation conference if the employee is also represented by an attorney at the mediation conference.
(4)(a) If the parties fail to agree to written submission of pretrial stipulations, the judge of compensation claims shall conduct a live pretrial hearing. The judge of compensation claims shall give the interested parties at least 14 days’ advance notice of the pretrial hearing by mail.
(b) The final hearing must be held and concluded within 90 days after the mediation conference is held, allowing the parties sufficient time to complete discovery. Except as set forth in this section, continuances may be granted only if the requesting party demonstrates to the judge of compensation claims that the reason for requesting the continuance arises from circumstances beyond the party’s control. The written consent of the claimant must be obtained before any request from a claimant’s attorney is granted for an additional continuance after the initial continuance has been granted. Any order granting a continuance must set forth the date and time of the rescheduled hearing. A continuance may be granted only if the requesting party demonstrates to the judge of compensation claims that the reason for requesting the continuance arises from circumstances beyond the control of the parties. The judge of compensation claims shall report any grant of two or more continuances to the Deputy Chief Judge.
(c) The judge of compensation claims shall give the interested parties at least 14 days’ advance notice of the final hearing, served upon the interested parties by mail.
(d) The final hearing shall be held within 210 days after receipt of the petition for benefits in the county where the injury occurred, if the injury occurred in this state, unless otherwise agreed to between the parties and authorized by the judge of compensation claims in the county where the injury occurred. However, the claimant may waive the timeframes within this section for good cause shown. If the injury occurred outside the state and is one for which compensation is payable under this chapter, then the final hearing may be held in the county of the employer’s residence or place of business, or in any other county of the state that will, in the discretion of the Deputy Chief Judge, be the most convenient for a hearing. The final hearing shall be conducted by a judge of compensation claims, who shall, within 30 days after final hearing or closure of the hearing record, unless otherwise agreed by the parties, enter a final order on the merits of the disputed issues. The judge of compensation claims may enter an abbreviated final order in cases in which compensability is not disputed. Either party may request separate findings of fact and conclusions of law. At the final hearing, the claimant and employer may each present evidence with respect to the claims presented by the petition for benefits and may be represented by any attorney authorized in writing for such purpose. When there is a conflict in the medical evidence submitted at the hearing, the provisions of s. 440.13 shall apply. The report or testimony of the expert medical advisor shall be admitted into evidence in a proceeding and all costs incurred in connection with such examination and testimony may be assessed as costs in the proceeding, subject to the provisions of s. 440.13. No judge of compensation claims may make a finding of a degree of permanent impairment that is greater than the greatest permanent impairment rating given the claimant by any examining or treating physician, except upon stipulation of the parties. Any benefit due but not raised at the final hearing which was ripe, due, or owing at the time of the final hearing is waived.
(e) The order making an award or rejecting the claim, referred to in this chapter as a “compensation order,” shall set forth the findings of ultimate facts and the mandate; and the order need not include any other reason or justification for such mandate. The compensation order shall be filed in the Office of the Judges of Compensation Claims at Tallahassee. A copy of such compensation order shall be sent by mail to the parties and attorneys of record at the last known address of each, with the date of mailing noted thereon.
(f) Notwithstanding any other provision of this section, the judge of compensation claims may require the appearance of the parties and counsel before her or him without written notice for an emergency conference where there is a bona fide emergency involving the health, safety, or welfare of an employee. An emergency conference under this section may result in the entry of an order or the rendering of an adjudication by the judge of compensation claims.
(g) To expedite dispute resolution and to enhance the self-executing features of the Workers’ Compensation Law, the Deputy Chief Judge shall make provision by rule or order for the resolution of appropriate motions by judges of compensation claims without oral hearing upon submission of brief written statements in support and opposition, and for expedited discovery and docketing. Unless the judge of compensation claims, for good cause, orders a hearing under paragraph (h), each claim in a petition relating to the determination of the average weekly wage under s. 440.14 shall be resolved under this paragraph without oral hearing.
(h) To further expedite dispute resolution and to enhance the self-executing features of the system, those petitions filed in accordance with s. 440.192 that involve a claim for benefits of $5,000 or less shall, in the absence of compelling evidence to the contrary, be presumed to be appropriate for expedited resolution under this paragraph; and any other claim filed in accordance with s. 440.192, upon the written agreement of both parties and application by either party, may similarly be resolved under this paragraph. A claim in a petition of $5,000 or less for medical benefits only or a petition for reimbursement for mileage for medical purposes shall, in the absence of compelling evidence to the contrary, be resolved through the expedited dispute resolution process provided in this paragraph. For purposes of expedited resolution pursuant to this paragraph, the Deputy Chief Judge shall make provision by rule or order for expedited and limited discovery and expedited docketing in such cases. At least 15 days prior to hearing, the parties shall exchange and file with the judge of compensation claims a pretrial outline of all issues, defenses, and witnesses on a form adopted by the Deputy Chief Judge; provided, in no event shall such hearing be held without 15 days’ written notice to all parties. No pretrial hearing shall be held and no mediation scheduled unless requested by a party. The judge of compensation claims shall limit all argument and presentation of evidence at the hearing to a maximum of 30 minutes, and such hearings shall not exceed 30 minutes in length. Neither party shall be required to be represented by counsel. The employer or carrier may be represented by an adjuster or other qualified representative. The employer or carrier and any witness may appear at such hearing by telephone. The rules of evidence shall be liberally construed in favor of allowing introduction of evidence.
(i) A judge of compensation claims may, upon the motion of a party or the judge’s own motion, dismiss a petition for lack of prosecution if a petition, response, motion, order, request for hearing, or notice of deposition has not been filed during the previous 12 months unless good cause is shown. A dismissal for lack of prosecution is without prejudice and does not require a hearing.
(j) A judge of compensation claims may not award interest on unpaid medical bills and the amount of such bills may not be used to calculate the amount of interest awarded. Regardless of the date benefits were initially requested, attorney’s fees do not attach under this subsection until 30 days after the date the carrier or self-insured employer receives the petition.
(5)(a) Procedures with respect to appeals from orders of judges of compensation claims shall be governed by rules adopted by the Supreme Court. Such an order shall become final 30 days after mailing of copies of such order to the parties, unless appealed pursuant to such rules.
(b) An appellant may be relieved of any necessary filing fee by filing a verified petition of indigency for approval as provided in s. 57.081(1) and may be relieved in whole or in part from the costs for preparation of the record on appeal if, within 15 days after the date notice of the estimated costs for the preparation is served, the appellant files with the judge of compensation claims a copy of the designation of the record on appeal, and a verified petition to be relieved of costs. A verified petition filed prior to the date of service of the notice of the estimated costs shall be deemed not timely filed. The verified petition relating to record costs shall contain a sworn statement that the appellant is insolvent and a complete, detailed, and sworn financial affidavit showing all the appellant’s assets, liabilities, and income. Failure to state in the affidavit all assets and income, including marital assets and income, shall be grounds for denying the petition with prejudice. The Office of the Judges of Compensation Claims shall adopt rules as may be required pursuant to this subsection, including forms for use in all petitions brought under this subsection. The appellant’s attorney, or the appellant if she or he is not represented by an attorney, shall include as a part of the verified petition relating to record costs an affidavit or affirmation that, in her or his opinion, the notice of appeal was filed in good faith and that there is a probable basis for the District Court of Appeal, First District, to find reversible error, and shall state with particularity the specific legal and factual grounds for the opinion. Failure to so affirm shall be grounds for denying the petition. A copy of the verified petition relating to record costs shall be served upon all interested parties. The judge of compensation claims shall promptly conduct a hearing on the verified petition relating to record costs, giving at least 15 days’ notice to the appellant, the department, and all other interested parties, all of whom shall be parties to the proceedings. The judge of compensation claims may enter an order without such hearing if no objection is filed by an interested party within 20 days from the service date of the verified petition relating to record costs. Such proceedings shall be conducted in accordance with the provisions of this section and with the workers’ compensation rules of procedure, to the extent applicable. In the event an insolvency petition is granted, the judge of compensation claims shall direct the department to pay record costs and filing fees from the Workers’ Compensation Administration Trust Fund pending final disposition of the costs of appeal. The department may transcribe or arrange for the transcription of the record in any proceeding for which it is ordered to pay the cost of the record.
(c) As a condition of filing a notice of appeal to the District Court of Appeal, First District, an employer who has not secured the payment of compensation under this chapter in compliance with s. 440.38 shall file with the notice of appeal a good and sufficient bond, as provided in s. 59.13, conditioned to pay the amount of the demand and any interest and costs payable under the terms of the order if the appeal is dismissed, or if the District Court of Appeal, First District, affirms the award in any amount. Upon the failure of such employer to file such bond with the District Court of Appeal, First District, along with the notice of appeal, the District Court of Appeal, First District, shall dismiss the notice of appeal.
(6) An award of compensation for disability may be made after the death of an injured employee.
(7) Any interested party shall have the right in any case of death to require an autopsy, the cost thereof to be borne by the party requesting it; and the judge of compensation claims shall have authority to order and require an autopsy and may, in her or his discretion, withhold her or his findings and award until an autopsy is held.
History.—s. 25, ch. 17481, 1935; CGL 1936 Supp. 5966(25); s. 11, ch. 18413, 1937; s. 7, ch. 20672, 1941; s. 3, ch. 22814, 1945; s. 1, ch. 26967, 1951; s. 8, ch. 28241, 1953; s. 6, ch. 29778, 1955; s. 1, ch. 57-270; s. 2, ch. 59-100; s. 2, ch. 59-142; s. 2, ch. 65-120; s. 1, ch. 65-119; s. 1, ch. 67-374; s. 2, ch. 67-554; ss. 17, 35, ch. 69-106; s. 120, ch. 71-355; s. 1, ch. 74-48; s. 15, ch. 74-197; s. 12, ch. 75-209; ss. 6, 8, ch. 77-290; ss. 8, 23, ch. 78-300; s. 17, ch. 79-7; ss. 19, 124, ch. 79-40; ss. 14, 21, ch. 79-312; s. 180, ch. 79-400; s. 9, ch. 80-236; s. 7, ch. 81-119; s. 9, ch. 83-305; ss. 17, 43, ch. 89-289; ss. 25, 56, ch. 90-201; ss. 23, 52, ch. 91-1; s. 31, ch. 91-46; s. 1, ch. 91-47; s. 30, ch. 93-415; s. 118, ch. 97-103; s. 95, ch. 2000-153; s. 19, ch. 2001-91; s. 37, ch. 2002-194; s. 12, ch. 2002-236; s. 25, ch. 2003-412; s. 63, ch. 2004-5.