The Florida House of Representatives this week passed the chamber’s approach to workers’ compensation reform, CS/HB 7085.
While Florida’s big money business and insurance community is lining up behind the bill, advocates for employees believe the plan falls short for the 50,000 to 60,000 injured workers in Florida annually.
“The injured worker deserves something, something, and they are not getting anything out of this bill,” said Rep. Sean Shaw, an FJA member who previously served as state insurance consumer advocate noting that the bill does “everything for the insurance companies, everything for the employers.”
The bill passage did not come without a fight to enhance benefits for injured workers, allow for doctor choice and allow for “reasonable” attorneys’ fees as opposed the $150 an hour cap in the legislation.
The House fee cap represents a significant burden shift from insurance companies to injured workers. Under the proposal, attorneys with a higher hourly rate could bill clients for the difference, forcing injured workers to come out of pocket instead of insurance companies.
The Senate proposal (CS/SB 1582) limits the fees an insured worker’s attorney can receive from an insurance carrier to $250 an hour, but contains a “safety valve” provision that allows a Judge of Compensation Claims to deviate from the fee schedule.
The House bill also requires attorneys to file time records before mediation, pre-trial and the final hearing, even though no carrier-paid fee is due or owing until an order awarding benefits is entered. The Senate doesn’t have this requirement in its bill.
Supporters for injured workers say the House requirement unnecessarily increases the number of hours an attorney will generate in litigating a petition for benefits. It also increases judicial costs, even in cases where claims may be denied.
The House proposal now moves to the Senate where separate legislation is moving that advocates for injured workers say provides a better approach. The Senate bill is ready for debate on the Senate floor.