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August 4, 2016

In Caterpillar Logistics Services, Inc. v. Amaya, 2016 WL 822020 (Fla. 3d DCA July 13th, 2016), Rudolph Amaya suffered an on-the-job injury to his back and knee while working at Caterpillar’s facility. Shortly thereafter, Amaya filed a worker’s compensation claim. A few months later, Amaya was placed on “no work” status because of his injuries. This “no work” status continued throughout trial. Amaya began to receive temporary total disability benefits from Caterpillar’s workers’ compensation carrier. A day after being placed on “no work” status, Caterpillar discharged Amaya.

In response, Amaya filed suit claiming that Caterpillar unlawfully retaliated against him for filing a workers’ compensation claim in violation of section 440.205, Florida Statutes. Amaya sought economic damages in the form of lost wages, including back pay and front pay. The trial court returned a verdict in favor of Amaya and awarded damages for back pay and front pay.

Caterpillar appealed the verdict, and the Third District reversed the decision and entered judgment in favor of Caterpillar. The Third District discussed how the purpose of awarding lost wages to a wrongfully discharged employee is to make him whole by putting him in the economic position he would have been in, but for the wrongful discharge. In order to be entitled to such damages, the employee must still be able to perform work.

Since Amaya was unable to work due to his on-the-job physical injuries, and because there was no indication that his injuries would improve after trial, the Third District held that he was not entitled to any award of back pay or front pay. The Court found that his injuries were compensable through worker’s compensation. In addition, Amaya failed to prove that Caterpillar’s retaliation was the “but for” cause of his lost wages before or after trial.

Practice Tips

The crucial component of seeking lost wages is the party’s ability to work both prior to and following the alleged wrongful discharge. If the plaintiff is unable to work between the wrongful discharge and the date of trial, then the court will likely not find entitlement to back pay. Likewise, if the plaintiff is unable to work during the post-judgment period of reinstatement, similarly the plaintiff is unlikely to be awarded front pay.