The House Insurance and Banking Subcommittee voted Tuesday, March 14 on a proposed bill that would make key changes to the state’s workers’ compensation insurance system.
The House panel ultimately approved the 34-page bill. The bill deals with a number a workers’ comp issues, including medical reimbursement provisions and benefits to injured workers. However, the most divisive issue was that of attorney fee limits. The proposed bill (PCB IBS-17-01) allows judges of compensation claims to approve fees up to $250 an hour for workers’ attorneys.
The purpose of the proposed bill is to comply with the Supreme Court’s April 2016 ruling that the state’s attorney fee limits were unconstitutional. Additionally, it is meant to satisfy the Supreme Court’s objections to temporary lost-wage benefits for claimants not yet eligible for permanent disability but still too injured to work. Many believe the 14.5 percent workers’ comp insurance rate increase, which took effect in December 2016, is a direct result of these rulings.
The Florida Chamber of Commerce, Associated Industries of Florida, the Florida Retail Federation and the National Federation of Independent Business all opposed the fee proposal in the House bill which led Jay Fant (R-Jacksonville) to propose an amendment. His proposal would eliminate insurers’ and businesses’ responsibility to pay attorney fees for workers who prevail in workers’ comp benefits disputes. Rather, workers and carriers would be required to pay for their own litigation costs.
Critics of Fant’s proposed amendment questioned its constitutionality and were concerned it might limit injured workers’ access to the court system and their ability to challenge the decisions of insurers.
After significant debate, the amendment was rejected by an 8-7 vote. The House panel went on to approve the proposed bill, 14-1.
A Senate bill (SB 1582) has been filed by Rob Bradley (R-Fleming), but has not yet been heard by committees. Boyd & Jenerette will continue to monitor and update in regard to the status of this bill.