Supreme Court of Florida
RAYMOND O. DIXON,
GAB BUSINESS SERVICES, INC.
and BIO LAB INC.,
[August 24, 2000]
We have for review a decision on the following question certified to be of
great public importance:
WHETHER THE HOLDING IN ESCAMBIA COUNTY SHERIFF'S
DEPARTMENT v. GRICE, 692 So. 2d 896 (Fla. 1997), CAPPING
TOTAL BENEFITS RECEIVED BY A WORKER AT 100
PERCENT OF HIS OR HER AVERAGE WEEKLY WAGE,
APPLIES WHEN SOCIAL SECURITY DISABILITY IS ONE OF
THE BENEFITS RECEIVED BY THE WORKER, AND 80
PERCENT OF HIS OR HER AVERAGE CURRENT EARNINGS,
AS COMPUTED BY THE SOCIAL SECURITY
ADMINISTRATION, ARE GREATER THAN HIS OR HER
AVERAGE WEEKLY WAGE.
GAB Business Services, Inc., v. Dixon, 739 So. 2d 637, 641 (Fla. 1st DCA 1999).
We have jurisdiction. See Art. V, § 3(b)(4), Fla. Const. For the reasons stated
herein, we answer the certified question in the negative and quash the decision of
the district court.
Petitioner Raymond O. Dixon retired as a police officer and began working
for Bio Lab, Inc., as a sales representative. He was injured in automobile accident
on March 28, 1994, during the scope of his employment. For purposes of
workers’ compensation, Dixon was accepted as permanently and totally disabled
as of June 8, 1995. Dixon's average weekly wage (AWW) as determined by
workers’ compensation at the time of the accident was $260 per week, and the
corresponding compensation rate was $173.33. The monthly rates for both were
$1,118 and $745.32, respectively. In addition to receiving workers’ compensation
benefits from respondents Bio Lab and GAB Business Services, Inc. (the
employer/carrier), Dixon was paid $100 per month from a group disability policy,
as well as $424.58 per month in social security disability (SSD) benefits. The total
of these three benefits is $1,269.90.
The employer/carrier sought to offset Dixon’s workers’ compensation
benefits by $151.90 per month, the amount that the three benefits exceeded his
$1,118 monthly AWW. Dixon argued that section 440.15(10), Florida Statutes
(Supp. 1994), prevents an employer/carrier from reducing a claimant’s benefits
beyond 80 percent of his or her average current earnings (ACE) and that, because
this amount of $1,666.40 was more than the total amount of benefits Dixon was
receiving, the statute prevented any offset. The judge of compensation claims
agreed with Dixon and denied the offset, determining that the cap on benefits
should be based on a claimant’s ACE.
On appeal, the First District reversed. GAB Business Services, 739 So. 2d
at 640. The First District found that our holding in Grice prevented an injured
worker from receiving more than 100 percent of his or her AWW. Id. at 639. The
First District recognized, however, that Grice did not involve this situation, in which
a claimant’s ACE exceeded his AWW and posed the certified question for our
consideration. Id. at 641.
In Grice the employer/carrier sought to reduce a claimant’s workers’
compensation benefits to the extent that his combined workers’ compensation,
SSD, and state disability retirement benefits exceeded his AWW. This Court
found that section 440.20(15), Florida Statutes (1985), authorized such a reduction.
That section provided:
When an employee is injured and the employer pays his full
wages or any part thereof during the period of disability, or pays
medical expenses for such employee, and the case is contested by the
carrier or the carrier and employer and thereafter the carrier, either
voluntarily or pursuant to an award, makes a payment of
compensation or medical benefits, the employer shall be entitled to
reimbursement to the extent of the compensation paid or awarded,
plus medical benefits, if any, out of the first proceeds paid by the
carrier in compliance with such voluntary payment or award, provided
the employer furnishes satisfactory proof to the judge of such
payment of compensation and medical benefits. Any payment by the
employer over and above compensation paid or awarded and medical
benefits, pursuant to subsection (14), shall be considered a gratuity.
§ 440.20(15), Fla. Stat. (1985). Because the claimant’s ACE did not exceed his
AWW, the limits of section 440.15(10) were not an issue. It was in that context
that this Court interpreted section 440.20(15) to mean that “an injured worker,
except where expressly given such a right by contract, may not receive benefits
from his employer and other collateral sources which, when totalled, exceed 100%
of [a claimant’s] average weekly wage.” Escambia County Sheriff’s Dept. v.
Grice, 692 So. 2d 898.
Respondents argue that our decision in Grice is controlling and that it allows
an employer/carrier to take an offset or reduce its payments of workers’
compensation benefits up to the amount that a claimant’s combined benefits
exceed 100 percent of his or her AWW, irrespective of the claimant’s ACE. We
As stated, Grice did not involve a situation in which a claimant’s ACE
exceeded his AWW. Therefore, this Court did not discuss the restrictions
imposed by section 440.15(10)(a). That section provides:
Weekly compensation benefits payable under this chapter for
disability resulting from injuries to an employee who becomes eligible
for benefits under 42 U.S.C. s. 423 shall be reduced to an amount
whereby the sum of such compensation benefits payable under this
chapter and such total benefits otherwise payable for such period to
the employee and her or his dependents, had such employee not been
entitled to benefits under this chapter, under 42 U.S.C. ss. 402 and
423, does not exceed 80 percent of the employee’s average weekly
wage. However, this provision shall not operate to reduce an injured
worker’s benefits under this chapter to a greater extent than such
benefits would have otherwise been reduced under 42 U.S.C. s.
§ 440.15(10)(a), Fla. Stat. (1999). While this section permits an employer/carrier to
offset workers’ compensation payments to claimants by the amount of any social
security disability benefits the claimant is receiving, the offset cannot be taken such
that it decreases a claimant’s total benefits below 80 percent of the claimant’s
AWW or 80 percent of the claimant’s ACE, whichever amount is greater. See 42
U.S.C. § 424a (1995); American Bankers Ins. Co. v. Little, 393 So. 2d 1063, 1064
By extending our decision in Grice to those situations in which a claimant’s
ACE exceeds his or her AWW, this Court would vitiate the express limits set forth
in section 440.15(10)(a). As this Court noted in City of Clearwater v. Acker, 755
So. 2d 597 (Fla. 1999), our interpretation of section 440.20(15) to mean that a
claimant may not receive in excess of 100 percent of his or her AWW was a
judicial interpretation of an ambiguous statute and should not be extended to render
another statute meaningless. This Court must first try to read sections
440.15(10)(a) and 440.20(15) harmoniously. Id. That can be accomplished by
recognizing that our holding in Grice does not apply to situations in which a
claimant’s ACE exceeds his or her AWW.
Accordingly, we answer the certified question in the negative and hold that
when a claimant is receiving SSD benefits in addition to workers’ compensation,
thus implicating section 440.15(10)(a), an employer/carrier may offset workers’
compensation benefits but only to the extent that the claimant’s benefits exceed 80
percent of AWW or ACE, whichever is greater. See American Bankers Ins. Co. v.
Little, 393 So. 2d at 1064. The benefits may not be reduced beyond this amount.
This is so even though the claimant may be receiving in excess of 100 percent of
AWW at the time of the accident.
The decision of the district court is quashed, and the case is remanded for
proceedings consistent with this opinion.
By reason of the holding in this opinion, respondent’s cross-petition is moot.
It is so ordered.
SHAW, HARDING, ANSTEAD, PARIENTE, LEWIS and QUINCE, JJ., concur.
NOT FINAL UNTIL TIME EXPIRES TO FILE REHEARING MOTION, AND
IF FILED, DETERMINED.
Notice and Cross-Notice for Review of the Decision of the District Court of Appeal Certified Great Public Importance
First District - Case No. 1D98-3194
D. Paul McCaskill, Orlando, Florida; and Monte R. Shoemaker, Altamonte Springs,
for Petitioner, Cross-Respondent
Mathew D. Staver of Staver & Associates, Longwood, Florida,
for Respondents, Cross-Petitioners
Randy D. Ellison, West Palm Beach, Florida,
for Academy of Florida Trial Lawyers and Florida Workers’ Advocates