We all know that it is unconstitutional to deny death benefits to the beneficiaries of “aliens not residents (or about to become nonresidents) of the United States or Canada.”  The Florida Supreme Court declared the s. 440.16(7) unconstitutional.  See Deyala v. Florida Farm Bureau, 543 So.2d 204. 

But, what about illegal aliens injured in compensable accidents who previously provided false social security information to secure work, or those illegals who return to their home country while treating for a compensable injury in Florida?  According to the First DCA in two recent decisions, the immigration status of the claimant doesn’t really matter.

First, in Matrix Employee Leasing/FCCI v. Leopoldo Hernandez, the Court basically emasculates s. 440.105(4)(b)(9), which makes it unlawful for an employee to “knowingly present or cause to be presented any false, fraudulent, or misleading oral or written statement to any person as evidence of identity for the purpose of obtaining employment or filing or supporting a claim for workers’ compensation benefits.”  Coupled with 440.09(4)(a) (“knowingly engaged in any of the acts described in s. 440.105. . . for the purposes of securing workers’ compensation benefits”), many interpreted this section to mean if an employee lies on his job application, he is not entitled to workers’ comp benefits. 

Not so, says the Court.  It read s. 440.09 very strictly, focusing on the language, “for the purposes of securing workers’ compensation benefits,” the First DCA found no evidence to that Claimant violated the section. 

Now everyone knows that the s. 440.105(4)(b)(9) was written for illegal aliens.  Who else would on an application to get a job (besides criminals)?  And even if they did, how does that connect to a future compensable accident?  Due to its intent, many thought the Court would strike this section down.  Instead, they’ve made it completely inert.  And, the reasoning makes sense.  When an illegal alien provides a false social security number, he does it to get a job, not to intentionally fraud the workers’ comp system.

However, the question remains is: What if an illegal alien provides a false social security number to an adjuster in a recorded statement, or a doctor in an intake form?  Wouldn’t that be to knowingly present a false statement to secure benefits?  That issue has yet to be addressed by the Court. 

The second case involves an illegal alien who returns to his home country.  In AMS Staff Leasing/Providence v. Jesus Infante Arreola, an injured worker, in a compensable accident, returned to Mexico during treatment.  The E/C argued that orthopedic doctors in Mexico were not qualified as “physicians,” as defined by s. 440.13(1)(q). 

The Court found no difference between an out of state doctor (which an E/C has to authorize if the Claimant moves outside Florida) and a Mexican doctor.  A foreign physician may render compensable services to workers’ compensation claimants injured in Florida, regardless of the claimant’s immigration status.

The U.S. is certainly undergoing a vast debate about the immigration crisis in this country.  There are many opinions from the left and the right.  But, there is no question that the First DCA has a liberal view on the matter and sees very little difference between illegal aliens and naturalized citizens.

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