On November 26, 2014, the Fourth District Court of Appeal issued an opinion explaining that unemployment compensation benefits do not fall under the collateral source rule and are not to be set-off from a jury verdict. The case was Hurtado v. Desouza, (Fla. 4th DCA Nov. 26, 2014). Judge May delivered the opinion.
The facts of the case are not that different from many auto-accidents. The Plaintiff was rear-ended while stopped at a traffic light and sustained injuries. Prior to trial, the Defendant admitted liability for the accident and the case was tried on the issues of causation and damages.
The jury was presented evidence that the Plaintiff was employed as a commercial pilot but, at the time of the accident, was receiving unemployment compensation because he had been laid off. After hearing all of the testimony and evidence, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the Plaintiff, in the amount of $1,002,238.17. This amount included $325,000 in lost wages.
Post-trial, the Defendants moved for a set-off of the unemployment compensation and PIP (personal injury protection) benefits the Plaintiff received. The trial judge granted the motion and set-off $27,000 in unemployment compensation and $10,000 in PIP benefits from the verdict. The Plaintiff appealed this issue arguing that unemployment compensation benefits are not included in the collateral source rule and there should not be a set-off.
The Fourth District Court of Appeal looked at the plain-language of the Florida Statute §768.76 for guidance. Florida Statute §768.76 is the “collateral source rule” and provides for certain scenarios where benefits received from the injured party should be reduced from a jury verdict to protect against, what the court has explained as “double recovery.” However, in this particular case, the Court found that nowhere in §768.76 does it outline that “unemployment benefits” fall within the applicable collateral sources that can apply a set-off.
In conclusion, the Court opined, “because unemployment compensation benefits are not specifically listed in section 768.76 and cannot be interpreted as a collateral source under any of its provisions, the trial court erred in setting off those benefits from the final judgment.” The Court reversed the decision and directed the trial court to eliminate the $27,000 set-off from the final judgment.