On November 14, the House Commerce Committee voted down a series of proposed workers’ compensation “worker friendly” amendments before sending the workers’ compensation bill (PCB COM 18-01) to the House floor for consideration at the beginning of the 2018 Legislative Session in January.
The crux of the bill is the push to mandate an arbitrary cap on plaintiff’s attorney legal fees of $150. Supporters say the cap is needed to hold the line on insurance rate hikes. Opponents, including FJA, say this approach to attorney’s fees is unconstitutional.
“Injured workers cannot sue in tort. (They) cannot pursue personal injury cases. They are limited to this workers’ compensation claim that is predicated on a three-legged stool,” workers’ compensation attorney Richard Chait representing FJA, told the committee. “The first leg is that you have to have a proper replacement of wage benefit. The second leg, you have to have proper access to medical care. The third, and perhaps the most powerful leg, only in those cases where benefits are wrongfully denied, there has to be a system that compensates with reasonable attorneys’ fees when injured workers have to pursue these cases through litigation.”
Opponents stress that the legislation does not address the systemic problems in workers’ compensation that need attention. To address the need for additional substance in the proposal, lawmakers offered a series of amendments to increase transparency in ratemaking, embrace free-market principles to ignite competition among insurers, and provide increased medical choice for injured workers.
Rich Templin, representing the Florida AFL-CIO, noted that increasing competition and consumer choice in medical care are key principles of the House.
“I fail to see how those principles are so important, and so guiding to reform our medical system, how it’s different if you got injured on the job as opposed to your backyard,” said Templin.
The majority of members on the Committee rejected the amendments, keeping the bill in line with legislation approved by the House at the end of the 2017 Legislative Session.
“Last session, the logic was, ‘We’re in crisis,’ said House Commerce Committee Member Rep. Sean Shaw on Tuesday. “The logic this session is, ‘Let’s be proactive.’ I understand that those are two good reasons, but they are separate and distinct.”
Ryan Banfill is communications director for the Florida Justice Association. E-mail him at rbanfill@FloridaJusticeAssociation.org or follow him on Twitter @RyBan1001.