Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Finding the Rulings of the Florida Industrial Relations Commission

In a general sense, we learn from history. In American law there a special place for history, or prior decisions which we call precedent. Precedent is often followed due to a legal maxim "stare decisis," or "to stand by things decided," or "let the decision stand." The respect for prior decisions helps to make our legal systems predictable and therefore help it move more efficiently for those who need it.

Workers' compensation came to Florida in 1935. A number of states have recently celebrated the 100th anniversary of respective workers' compensation systems. In 2014 Louisiana and Kentucky celebrated. In 2015 Colorado, Indiana, Maine, Montana, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Wyoming will celebrate. Florida will wait another 20 years to celebrate our centennial of workers' compensation. Will workers' compensation as we know it exist in twenty years?

The Florida Division of Workers' Compensation has detailed history of workers' compensation on its website. It is titled Workers' Compensation, A Brief History. The author, Lloyd Harger, notes that there was a major reform in Florida in 1978. He describes this as "the first major change since 1935." On this timeline, the concept was adopted in 1935 and the "major overhaul" comes forty-three years later in 1978.

The revisions included the change in nomenclature from "workman's" to "workers," the transition to wage-loss, and the end of the Industrial Relations Commission, or "IRC." For forty-three years, the first tier appellate review in Florida workers' compensation cases was the IRC.  Beginning September 30, 1979, the appeals of Florida decisions was vested in the Florida First District Court of Appeal. 

As an aside, the First District Court was created by the legislature in 1957, along with the Second and Third. For the first 112 years of Florida's existence, since 1845, the appellate process across the state was the sole responsibility of the Supreme Court. Twenty-two years after the District Court was created, the jurisdiction over appeal of workers' compensation appeals was vested. There it has remained for the last 35 years. In 2022, the Court will achieve forty-two years, and historically equal the IRC. 

The history of worker's compensation in Florida is thus intertwined with the IRC and its decisions. There are those who argue that the decisions of the IRC lack relevance in the modern, Twenty-First Century, world. With the changes in the statute in 1979, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1994, 2001, and 2003, there may be some validity to that argument. There are occasions when attorneys and others want to review an IRC order. They are occasionally cited by the District Court in more modern opinions. 

There are a few copies of the original IRC orders still in circulation. The Miami and Tallahassee district offices still have copies. They are bound in three-ring binders. That is how they were distributed and kept, "back in the day." Periodically, people still refer to this written history of workers' compensation in Florida. So, the OJCC has scanned all of the IRC orders and they are searchable on the OJCC website, Under the "case search" tab, you will find "search IRC Orders via Google."

This "Google" refers to the Google hardware system that the OJCC uses to index all of the OJCC trial orders, which are also searchable on this section of the website. With key words such as the party name, or issue, anyone can search the IRC orders. Whether for an understanding of historical context when such an order has been cited by a judge or court, or for basic research, this tool may be of assistance.

Currently, the OJCC is working on digitally scanning all versions of Chapter 440 over the last eighty years. Periodically we receive a request for a copy of an older version of the statute. We hope to have this tool deployed in 2015. 

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