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St. Pete firefighter's case attracts Legislature's attention

A closely-watched legal case involving workers' compensation benefits, a disabled firefighter and the city of St. Petersburg is now before the Florida Supreme Court, which on Tuesday added it to its list of high-profile cases because of extensive public and media attention.

The case has drawn the interest of numerous business organizations, trial lawyers, unions, the Legislature and Attorney General Pam Bondi as well.

At the center of the case is Bradley Westphal, a former St. Pete firefighter who suffered a catastrophic spinal injury while moving furniture at a fire in 2009. As the Tampa Bay Times' Mark Puente has reported, Westphal sued the city after it stopped paying him temporary disability benefits at a time when he did not qualify for permanent total disability status. The First District Court of Appeal ruled in Westphal's favor and struck down as unconstitutional a provision in the state workers' compensation law that limits temporary disability benefits to two years.

Both houses of the Legislature have sided with the city of St. Petersburg in the case. Other friend-of-the-court briefs have been filed on the city's side by Publix Supermarkets, the Florida Chamber of Commerce, Associated Industries and the National Federation of Independent Business. The Florida Justice Association, Florida Worker Advocates and the Florida Police Benevolent Association have taken up Westphal's cause in court.

-- Steve Bousquet