Greene v. Maharaja of India
485 So. 2d 1329 (Fla. 1st DCA 1986)

Facts:

  • Claimant suffered severe personal injury as a passenger in an automobile accident driven by Viola Owens, a co-employee.
    • The accident occurred while the two women were returning from a trade show they had attended on behalf of the employer, Maharaja of India, Inc.
  • Claimant did not initially file a claim for workers’ compensation benefits, and when the employer/carrier voluntarily began paying benefits, she returned the check on the advice of her attorney.
    • The benefits were returned with the express caveat that their return was without prejudice to claimant’s right to later file a proper claim for benefits.
  • She then filed suit in circuit court for personal injuries.
  • Claimant entered into “Partial Settlement of Disputed Claim.” Terms:
    • $125,000;
    • Paragraph two:
      • Claimant had accepted the employer’s position that she was, on the date of the accident, an employee.
      • Upon payment of the settlement, claimant would dismiss with prejudice the employer from the civil action and would file a claim for workers’ compensation benefits.
      • In consideration of the dismissal with prejudice, the employer agreed that it would urge its workers’ compensation carrier to immediately begin payment of all compensation benefits provided under chapter 440.

History:
The deputy concluded that claimant, by taking the position in circuit court that she was not within the course and scope of her employment at the time of the accident and thereby settling her claim, was equitably estopped from taking a contrary position to obtain compensation benefits.

Issue:
Whether a claimant’s settlement of a claim for personal injuries in a civil action constitutes an election of remedies or calls for an application of the doctrine of equitable estoppel barring her from now seeking workers’ compensation benefits.

Holding:
No. Case reversed.

Reasoning:

  • By the employer’s action in settling the common law suit by a voluntary payment, “it chose to buy its way out of that litigation and thereby waived its right to defend. In a word, it volunteered a payment which it did not need to make.
  • It is even more significant to note that in the instant case, not only did the employer choose to “buy” its way out of the lawsuit, it did so while still maintaining its position that claimant’s sole remedy was by way of chapter 440. Further, claimant also conceded the exclusivity of chapter 440, which position is anything but inconsistent with the position she is presently assuming.
  • Basically, be careful agreeing to civil settlements in WC cases.