The Uncertain Future of Florida Workers’ Compensation System
Florida’s workers’ compensation system has been a hot topic this year among lawmakers, businesses, and labor groups in the wake of two Florida Supreme Court rulings that found parts of the system unconstitutional. The immediate result of these rulings has been a substantial rate increase for Florida businesses. Businesses express concerns about the amount of money spent on attorneys who represent injured workers. Workers’ compensation attorneys are troubled by insurance companies who do not properly pay claims to the insured. Labor unions are unhappy with a system that has reduced benefits for those injured on the job. Overall, it looks to be a tumultuous year ahead for the workers’ compensation system.
Supreme Court Rulings Have Serious Impact
In April of this year, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the attorney fee schedule, which was passed in 2009 as part of state reforms, is unconstitutional under Florida’s constitution as well as the U.S Constitution. It ruled that the fee schedule was a violation of due process, because it presumes that the attorney fee, which is based according to the schedule, is reasonable, thereby eliminating the right of a claimant to refute or negotiate another fee.
The Florida Legislature has expressed concerns about excessive attorney fee awards and has tried to standardize fees to address that concern. The Florida Supreme Court held that the statutory fee schedule did not reflect the time and effort that would be required by a claimant’s counsel. Furthermore, adherence to that schedule resulted in a substantial and increasing gap between the fees paid to claimant attorneys and those paid to counsel representing employers or carriers in the same case. The Court also noted that, since the law does not provide a standard to adjust fees when the recovery is too high in relation to the time and effort involved, excessive fees are still a result of the statutory fee schedule. Current law, it determined, discourages attorneys from representing claimants in certain cases.
Subsequently in another case, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the state’s statutory 104-week cap on temporary disability benefits was also unconstitutional, saying the limitation resulted in a statutory gap in benefits which violated the constitutional right to access to court.
Resulting Rate Increases
In response to the rulings, the National Council of Compensation Insurers (NCCI), which files on behalf of Florida insurers, instituted a rate increase request of 19.6 percent. The request was denied by the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation (OIR), and NCCI was instead ordered to amend and refile its rate increase for 14.5 percent. In October, that rate request was approved for all policies effective December 1, 2016.
Florida insurance advocates believe that employers and small business owners will suffer unless the state revamps the workers’ compensation system to address these new Court rulings.
Workers’ compensation laws are complex so trust a skilled Florida workers’ compensation attorney to successfully navigate the system
Florida’s workers’ compensation laws are complex. The recent changes brought about by the Florida Supreme Court rulings can make the laws all the more confusing. If you or a loved one has suffered a work-related injury, don’t try and navigate the worker’s compensation system alone. Since 1994, Board Certified workers’ compensation lawyer Joseph M. Rooth of The Rooth Law Firm has helped injured and disabled workers obtain much-needed medical and wage replacement benefits for their work-related injuries. Contact our office today at 727-849-3400 or online to schedule a free consultation. With convenient offices located in New Port Richey, Spring Hill, Seminole and Clearwater, we serve clients in New Port Richey and throughout the Tampa Bay area.