Let’s Keep Florida’s Workers’ Comp System Working

By: Mark Wilson

Job creators beware — even though your business’ workers’ compensation rates decreased over recent years, a Florida Supreme Court ruling is reversing that trend — potentially pushing your rates toward the near-record levels of the early 2000s, absent a legislative remedy.

The high court’s recent action threw out Florida’s attorney fee structure — a system that was put into place to stabilize out-of-control workers’ comp rates, which at the time were among the highest in the country. In this particular case, justices agreed that a plaintiff trial lawyer should receive $38,000 in attorney fees for a case in which the injured worker was awarded only $800.

As Florida’s advocate fighting to keep workers’ comp working, the potential impact of the high court’s ruling could threaten Florida’s improving business climate. That’s because job creators now face a 17.1 percent workers’ comp rate increase — a rate filing proposed by the National Council on Compensation Insurance.

In a state in which two of every three jobs is created by small businesses, a rate increase this significant can have a damaging impact on job creation and the economy.

Prior to 2003, Florida’s workers’ comp claims cost on average 40 percent more than the rest of the country when an attorney was involved. It was during 2003 that a united business community joined with the Florida Chamber of Commerce in successfully urging state elected leaders to address cost drivers like outrageous, higher-than-the-national-average plaintiff attorney fees and delays in getting employees the quality health care they needed and deserved.

Those reforms resulted in behavior changes: employees were able to receive important health care to return to work more quickly, while attorney fees became a bit more reasonable.

In the last 13 years, we have led efforts to help lower workers’ comp rates by nearly 60 percent. Cases were settled faster, allowing injured workers to get the benefits they needed, and injured workers returned to work faster on average by 10 days.

At the Florida Chamber, we remain laser-focused on ensuring workers receive quality health care so they can return to work quickly, and that job creators aren’t stuck with a 17.1 percent plaintiff trial lawyer tax on workers’ comp.

We fully anticipated Florida’s activist court would rule in favor of plaintiff trial lawyers, and against workers and job creators.

As a result, our Workers’ Compensation Task Force has been engaging Florida’s highest elected leaders since last year, preparing them for this outcome and working with top legal minds to develop the right solution.

In addition to task force meetings, six regional membership meetings (with more to come) have already taken place, and our local chamber federation is actively engaged — assessing the impact it will have on local businesses, and joining efforts toward solutions.

At the Florida Chamber, we believe that putting job creators and injured workers first is the right thing to do to keep Florida’s workers’ comp system working.