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Court ruling halts workers comp rate increase

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A 14.5% workers compensation advisory rate increase slated to go into effect for Florida on Thursday has been axed by a state judge who ruled that the National Council on Compensation Insurance Inc. and the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation did not follow open meeting laws when they came up with the controversial rate hike.

Leon County, Florida Circuit Court Judge Karen Gievers wrote in her 73-page ruling on Wednesday that “secret meetings” between Boca Raton, Florida-based NCCI and the Florida insurance department violated Florida’s Sunshine Act.

The ruling says that “undisputed evidence established that none of the meetings at NCCI were open to the public, established that no minutes were kept and established that there was no notice to the public in advance of the meetings.”

Judge Gievers also stated in her ruling that as “a statutorily recognized workers’ compensation rating organization, NCCI is required to conduct its rate filing preparation meetings in public, following proper public notice.”

NCCI said in a statement on Monday that it plans to appeal the court’s decision.

“NCCI is very disappointed in the decision of the Leon County Circuit Court.  We continue to believe that NCCI and the Florida (insurance department) have fully complied with the law,” the ratings and research agency said in its statement.

The ruling is the result of a lawsuit filed in August against NCCI, the Florida insurance department and Florida Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier. The plaintiff in the case is James F. Fee Jr., a workers comp claimant attorney and partner with Miami-based law firm Druckman, Fee & Chait P.A.

NCCI's rate filing was based on major Florida Supreme Court rulings this year that are expected to have a significant impact on workers comp costs.

In April, the state Supreme Court ruled in Marvin Castellanos v. Next Door Co. et al. that the state's attorney fee schedule violated due process under state and federal law as it hindered an injured worker's ability to obtain legal representation.

In June, the state high court ruled in Bradley Westphal vs. City of St. Petersburg et al. that Florida's 104-week cap on temporary total disability benefits was unconstitutional.