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A Florida workers compensation reform bill that responds to the outcome of recent major workers comp rulings in the state passed 7-1 Monday in the Florida Senate’s Committee on Banking and Insurance.
Senate Bill 1582, introduced by Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Orange Park, amends Florida’s workers comp law to codify an increase in temporary total disability and temporary partial disability benefits from 104 to 260 weeks that was mandated in Bradley Westphal vs. City of St. Petersburg. In that case decided last year, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the state’s time limit on disability payments was unconstitutional because it left some injured workers without comp benefits if they exhausted their temporary disability benefits before their permanent disability benefits could begin.
The bill also requires the Florida Judge of Compensation Claims to consider certain factors when determining if attorney fees should be increased or decreased based on a maximum hourly rate of $250 and removes the criminal penalty for claimant attorneys receiving fees not approved by the judge, thereby allowing claimants to enter retainer agreements. The provision is a response to another Florida Supreme Court decision last year in Marvin Castellanos v. Next Door Co. et al. that found a cap on Florida workers comp claimant attorney fees hindered injured workers’ ability to obtain legal representation. The bill also removes an attorney fee cap of $1,500 on medical-only claims.
Other provisions of the bill would require greater specificity about the date of maximum medical improvement and the date PTD benefits are claimed to begin when petitions are filed with the Office of Judges of Compensation Claims. The bill also specifies that deadlines within multiple provisions relating to medical care are based on business, not calendar, days.
Finally, the bill revises the workers comp rating law to implement loss costs rating, requiring each insurer to seek approval for rates based on aggregate claim information filed by a rating organization with individual company data used for the final rate.
The bill is now awaiting consideration in the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Workers comp cost increases stemming from the Westphal and Castellanos rulings prompted the National Council on Compensation Insurance Inc. to file for a 19.6% workers comp rate hike in Florida. NCCI said in November that the Castellanos decision has caused workers comp attorney fees to increase 22% in the state, while an earlier NCCI estimate said that both court rulings could cause overall comp costs to increase as much as 38%.
The national discussion around workers compensation opt-out laws won’t go away in 2017, despite a recent low point in the number of Texas workers comp nonsubscribers and the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s decision in September to ax the state’s alternative injury benefit law, according to comp experts.