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Florida workers comp reform bills hit dead end

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The Florida Senate adjourned Friday without passing either of the workers compensation reform bills addressing 2016 Florida Supreme Court decisions in Bradley Westphal v. City of St. Petersburg and Marvin Castellanos v. Next Door Co. et al.

House Bill 7085 would have extended total combined temporary wage replacement benefits from 104 weeks to 260 weeks, capped attorney fees at $150 an hour and allowed a Judge of Compensation Claims to award an hourly fee different from the statutory percentage-based attorney fee schedule. Senate Bill 1582 would have increased the time limit on temporary partial disability and temporary total disability benefits from 104 weeks to 260 weeks and capped attorney fees at $250 an hour. 

The main point of disagreement between the state House and Senate involved the attorney fees caps. 

“There were some amendments to H.B. 7085 in the closing days and in the closing hours, but the key issue that (the American Insurance Association), industry and employers had urged that needed to be addressed was the issues of attorney fees,” said Ronald Jackson, vice president for state affairs, southeast region, at the Washington-based American Insurance Association, in an interview with Business Insurance Monday. “The House had moved to $180 and the Senate in their very last vote on the issue moved back to $250,” he said. 

H.B. 7085 drew support from the business community, but critics of the bill said it would give injured workers less access to the courts. 

“In the floor debate Friday as the Senate considered its last amendments to H.B. 7085, those claims were made even at the $200 level or above,” Mr. Jackson said. “There are some on the claimants’ side that have asserted that any cap on attorney fees is unconstitutional, which we wholeheartedly disagree with. The purpose of the workers compensation system is to obtain some assurance that employers are able to resolve claims on behalf of their injured workers outside the court process,” said Mr. Jackson. 

If the Florida legislature chooses to pursue the issue, new legislation will have to be drafted and introduced for the 2018 session, according to Mr. Jackson.