Coca Cola v. Montiel
985 So.2d 19 (Fla. 2nd DCA 2008)

Facts:

  • Montiel suffered a back injury while unloading Coca–Cola products at a Tampa Kash N’ Karry store. Unquestionably, the injury occurred in the course and scope of his employment.
  • Coca–Cola paid workers’ compensation benefits to him for about twelve weeks, but denied further workers’ compensation benefits after medical evidence indicated that Montiel’s condition no longer related to his work injury, but to a degenerative condition.
  • Mr. Montiel did not claim further benefits under the workers’ compensation statute. Instead, he sued Coca–Cola and Kash N’ Karry for negligence.

History:

  • Coca–Cola sought summary judgment based on workers’ compensation exclusivity.
    • In successfully opposing the summary judgment motion, Mr. Montiel and Kash N’ Karry argued that the denial of further benefits estopped Coca–Cola from claiming workers’ compensation exclusivity.

Issue:
Whether an employer is estopped from asserting the exclusivity defense of the workers’ compensation statute, even though it denies employee further workers’ compensation benefits.

Holding:
No. Case reversed.

Reasoning:

  • This case was distinguishable from Byerley (which held that employers are estopped from asserting the exclusive remedy defense after denying benefits) in that benefits were actually paid, just discontinued based on medical evidence.
  • Any disputes should be resolved in a workers’ comp setting.

Rule: Employer are NOT estopped from asserting the exclusivity defense of the workers’ compensation statute, even though it denies the employee further workers’ compensation benefits.