Section 440.20(15) Florida Statutes - Interpretation

Section 440.20(15) Florida Statutes (1985) provides: "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 compensation claims 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." Section 440.20(15) has been interpreted to mean that an injured worker's compensation from all sources cannot exceed 100 percent of his individual AWW at the time of the injury. See Barragan v. City of Miami, 545 So. 2d 252 (Fla. 1989). It is undisputed that the Legislature intended supplemental benefits to provide cost-of-living increases for permanently and totally disabled workers to account for the impact of inflation. See Department of Labor & Employment Sec. v. Vaughan, 411 So. 2d 294, 295 (Fla. 1st DCA 1982)(stating purpose of five percent increase is to "partially offset the effects of inflation"). In Shipp v. State Workers' Compensation Trust Fund, 481 So. 2d 76 (Fla. 1st DCA 1986), the First District elaborated on the Legislature's purpose for enacting the statute stating: "Claimant's argument is inconsistent with 3 the purpose of supplemental benefits, which is to protect recipients of periodic benefits from the long-term effects of inflation that reduce the value of a fixed amount of benefits. The effects of inflation are the same irrespective of the method of calculating supplemental benefits. Once a lump-sum payment is authorized and received pursuant to section 440.20, a claimant has the option to invest the funds and offset the effects of inflation so that the purpose of supplemental benefits is satisfied." Id. at 79 . Clearly, the stated purpose for the enactment of section 440.15(1)(e)1, as a hedge against inflation, would be frustrated under the City's interpretation of section 440.20(15). Thus, there is an apparent conflict between the purpose of the supplemental benefits statute and the City's argument that section 440.20(15) requires increases in supplemental benefits to be included in offset calculations. "Where . . . two statutes are found to be in conflict, rules of statutory construction must be applied to reconcile . . . the conflict. We are aided in this task by the maxim that 'legislative intent is the pole star by which we must be guided in interpreting the provisions of a law.'" DeBolt v. Department of Health & Rehabilitative Servs., 427 So. 2d 221, 224 (Fla. 1st DCA 1983)