United Business Community Can Win the War

 

Voice of Reason

June 2017

For years I’ve been warning about the growing power of TV trial lawyers over the Florida Legislature. It was none more apparent than this year’s regular legislative session.

Throughout session, politicians put short-term politics ahead of Florida’s long-term security, and ignored rising workers’ compensation rates on job creators, and rising property insurance rates on Florida’s families and workers. The lack of courage demonstrated by some in the Florida Legislature was so apparent, it prompted the Wall Street Journal to ask, “Does Florida’s legislature exist to enrich plaintiffs attorneys or to serve the Sunshine State’s voters?”

Lawmakers were well educated on the problem early on. Leading up to the 2017 Legislative Session, Florida businesses were hit with $1.5 billion in increased costs due to a series of workers’ comp court decisions. And rising property insurance rates – as much as 10 percent higher – were being forced onto homeowners to cover the ever-increasing cost of water losses due to a “homeowner fraud tax” that’s become a lucrative niche industry for some TV trial lawyers and shady contractors. A similar scam is haunting auto owners.

During session, the Florida House passed Florida Chamber-supported bills that addressed both problems. Yet the Florida Senate opted to ignore the House’s legislation, and instead considered a bill actually written by trial lawyers that did nothing to tackle rising workers’ comp rates, the attorney fees at the heart of the problem, or rising property insurance rates.

The legislative session is now in the rear view mirror, but Florida small businesses, workers and families are now forced to deal with the rising cost of legislative inaction in the form of higher insurance premiums. At the Florida Chamber, we won’t give up.

Workers’ Compensation

A $1.5 billion increase in workers’ comp rates stunts economic opportunities and impacts employees who should be receiving the health care they need and getting back to work quickly. Many businesses are just now learning of the workers’ comp rate increase, and getting their first bill with the higher rates. The Florida Chamber and its Workers’ Comp Task Force will continue standing up for job creators, fighting to protect workers, and working with elected leaders to enact reforms to help make Florida more competitive. Add your voice to our work improving Florida’s workers’ comp system by contacting Carolyn Johnson.

Assignment of Benefits

We’re committed to protecting homeowners and auto owners from this rampant fraud and abuse. Far too often home and auto owners are unaware that by signing an AOB for repairs means they’re signing away their rights, and making themselves and their insurance carrier vulnerable to scam tactics and lawsuits. The Florida Chamber and our Consumer Protection Coalition continue to partner with leading organizations across Florida to raise awareness and seek legislative resolutions. In between now and the next legislative session, you’ll see our digital public service announcements designed to protect Floridians and strengthen our message. Join our mounting efforts to combat AOB fraud and abuse by contacting Edie Ousley.
We will continue our efforts to identify and elect pro-jobs, pro-business candidates to the Florida Legislature that will put Florida’s long-term economic future ahead of political quick fixes. And we’ll continue working with our partners, providing a united business community, to stand on the front lines fighting these battles on behalf of Florida small business, workers and families.

We can win this together.

Cissy Proctor Talks to Members of the Florida Chamber’s Small Business Council

     

The Florida Chamber’s Small Business Council held its monthly conference call on April 24. Thank you to those of you who were able join us on the call. We appreciated the opportunity to keep small business leaders like you informed on issues impacting Florida’s small business community. During the call Cissy Proctor, Executive Director of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, provided an update on Florida’s job growth for January, February and March. Director Proctor also shared that Florida’s job growth outpaced the nation six times over.

Dr. Jerry Parrish, Chief Economist for the Florida Chamber Foundation, provided an overview of the Florida Chamber’s Q2 Small Business Index Survey results, which shows Florida job creators increasingly concerned about workforce quality and government regulations. Dr. Parrish also shared that fewer small businesses have confidence that Florida’s business climate is headed in the right direction.

We also heard from Frank Walker, Vice President of Governmental Affairs, who shared that there is still a lot of uncertainty as it relates to the 2017 Legislative Session, especially in regards to the passage of next fiscal year’s budget. Mr. Walker provided an update on key legislation including prejudgement interest, workers’ comp reform and Assignment of benefits (AOB), as well as the passage of the Florida Chamber-Backed Ridesharing Legislation which embraces innovation, strengthens job growth and provides ridesharing opportunities for Floridians and the 112+ million annual visitors to Florida.

 

Mark Your Calendar: Next Conference Call is May 22, 2017

Small businesses are important to Florida’s growing economy. Please mark your calendars for our next conference call on May 22 at 1:30 p.m. Do not miss this opportunity to join the discussion and make your voice heard. For more information on the Florida Chamber’s Small Business Council or becoming a member of the Florida Chamber, please contact Carolyn Johnson at (850) 521-1235.

Rep. Danny Burgess On Why Workers’ Comp Reform Is Essential

 

Helping Injured Workers is at the Heart of Workers’ Compensation Reform

“The House’s goal in all of this is to insure that this is the most open, transparent take that we have ever attempted to make on the workers’ compensation reform process….I just appreciate [stakeholders] taking so much time to make sure that we have the best bill that we can possibly have for those that are at the heart of the grand bargain – the employers and the employees.”
– Rep. Danny Burgess, Florida House Insurance and Banking Committee Chairman

Watch Rep. Danny Burgess (R-Zephyrhills), the House Banking and Insurance Committee Chairman, on the latest edition of the Florida Chamber’s Bottom Line explaining how expanding benefits for injured workers and reining in attorney behavior is the impetus behind the House’s efforts to reform Florida’s broken workers’ compensation system.

Have You or Your Business Felt the Impact of the 14.5 Percent Increase in Workers’ Comp Rates?

Email your lawmakers before noon on Wednesday and tell them to fix workers’ comp now. Ask them to support HB 7085 and HB 1107 in their non-amended forms.

Rep. Jay Fant Discusses Workers’ Comp, Assignment of Benefits and Economic Development

 

Workers’ compensation and assignment of benefits (AOB) legislation, along with the importance of preserving Florida’s role in economic development programs take center stage on the latest edition of the Florida Chamber’s Bottom Line. Representative Jay Fant shares why it’s important for the Florida Legislature to come up with solutions to these major issues facing Floridians.

“Workers comp is what I refer to as the atomic bomb that went off in all our accounting offices in recent months,” Fant (R-Jacksonville) said. “The Castellanos case was not friendly to businesses and it wasn’t friendly to injured workers either. Our biggest obligation in the legislature is to find a way to address this.”

Fant, a Jacksonville Republican, explained that the influence of trial lawyers is significant this session – with trial lawyers heading the Insurance and Banking Committee as well as the Civil Justice Committee.

 “…For the most part the excesses of the trial bar create tremendous problems for our businesses and the assignment of benefit area is one of those areas,” Fant said. “It’s become a runaway unregulated area of the law. That legislation is very difficult and, again, the business community will have to pay very close attention to this progress. We’ve got to get some good outcomes out of it.”

Rounding out the program, Rep. Fant reiterates the need for Florida to retain an active role in supporting economic growth and diversification through targeted incentive programs like Enterprise Florida. As with workers’ comp and AOB, its Florida’s businesses and tax payers that will feel the brunt of the impact should these problems go unresolved, he said.

“The movement against Enterprise Florida is very hurtful for businesses large and small,” he explained. “Small businesses do feed off the larger businesses that we can bring into the state. My great concern is we lose the tax revenue from the larger businesses, the small businesses success that comes from being around those larger businesses, the community coffers that get filled as well as the state’s – the state becomes a lesser competitor.”

Join the Conversation:

Learn more about where the Florida Chamber stands on workers’ comp reform, assignment of benefits and economic diversification. Join the Florida Chamber’s fight to make sure Florida has the best business climate in America, contact Carolyn Johnson.

Workers’ Comp Reform On The Move

A Florida House subcommittee today began taking initial steps toward fixing Florida’s workers’ compensation system, and the Florida Chamber of Commerce was there to champion the voice of job creators.

The Florida Chamber’s Workers’ Comp Task Force has been actively working to resolve a $1.5 billion increase on the business community, and today’s legislative hearing was an opportunity toward resolution. During testimony before the House Subcommittee on Insurance and Banking, the Florida Chamber’s lead policy director on workers’ compensation advocated for lower rates while also providing benefits to help workers’ get back to work faster.

“Our number one goal is to get injured workers back to work, while also lowering rates on job creators,” said CAROLYN JOHNSON, the Florida Chamber’s Director of Business, Economic Development and Innovation Policy.

While the bill is by no means perfect, PCB IBS 17-01 provides a starting point to build on efforts that will:

  • Reduce workers’ comp rates,
  • Decrease litigation, and
  • Provide additional benefits for injured workers.

Opposite the Florida Chamber’s efforts toward workers’ comp reform is Florida’s trial lawyer community which narrowly defeated an amendment to today’s bill that would have significantly reduced workers’ comp rates.

We will continue reaching out, keeping you apprised of the latest legislative action on this important issue, and seeking your help in getting true workers’ comp reform across the finish line.

Take Action Now

Learn more about the Florida Chamber Workers’ Comp Task Force. To join the task force or share your concerns about this issue, contact Carolyn Johnson.

House and Senate Release Draft Workers’ Comp Plans

Florida Chamber’s Workers’ Comp Task Force Needs Your Review and Feedback

The Florida House and Senate have both released early details of their workers’ compensation plans ahead of Tuesday’s start of the 2017 Florida Legislative Session. Full drafts of these bills are expected later today or before Tuesday, March 7, 2017.

The Florida Chamber of Commerce’s Workers’ Comp Task Force is seeking your input on these draft proposals. Please send the below links to your General Counsel or risk management team member for their immediate review and feedback.

The House will workshop their draft proposal on Tuesday, March 7, 2017, in the House Insurance and Banking Subcommittee. It’s unknown at this point when the Senate will workshop or hear their workers’ comp proposal.

Links to the proposals can be found here:

The Florida Chamber Workers’ Comp Task Force reconvened last year to address rising workers’ comp costs as a result of the Florida Supreme Court’s decisions in Castellanos and Westphal. On December 1, 2016, for all new and renewal policies, workers’ comp rates increased by 14.5 percent, with the majority of that rate increase due to the removal of attorney fee caps.

Email me at cjohnson@flchamber.com with your company’s thoughts on the House and Senate proposals.

Florida Chamber Calls on Florida Senate to Help Fix Pending Workers’ Comp Crisis

The Florida Chamber of Commerce today testified for a legislative fix to Florida’s workers’ compensation crisis during today’s Florida Senate Banking & Insurance Committee meeting.

“A $1.5 billion tab that is not about employee safety or protecting workers, but about increasing compensation for plaintiff trial lawyers is harmful to Florida’s competitiveness,” said CAROLYN JOHNSON, Director of Business, Economic Development & Innovation Policy for the Florida Chamber of Commerce. “The Florida Chamber’s Workers’ Comp Task Force believes that a legislative solution should include tying attorney fees to the amount of benefits secured for the injured worker.”

Florida’s employers are now having to foot a $1.5 billion workers’ comp bill as the result of two overreaching Florida Supreme Court decisions earlier this year declaring portions of Florida’s workers’ comp system unconstitutional.

“We support legislative efforts to normalize rates… to prevent future spikes so our businesses can plan for their future,” said TODD THOMSON, Vice President of Public Affairs, Greater Pensacola Chamber of Commerce during his testimony.

According to research from a Florida Chamber Workers’ Compensation Task Force survey, of the businesses impacted by the rate increase, 90 percent said the impact is significant. An overwhelming 96 percent of those surveyed believe that the Florida Legislature should take action to remedy the Supreme Court decisions that resulted in a 14.5 percent increase.

Prior to the Thanksgiving holiday, a Leon Circuit Court judge voided the 14.5 percent rate increase under the grounds that the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI) and the Office of Insurance Regulation (OIR) did not follow the requirements of the “Sunshine Law.” This decision has since been appealed, meaning the rate increase took effect on December 1, as planned. Yesterday evening, the First District Court of Appeals ruled that the 14.5 percent rate increase, which equates to $1.5 billion, will continue to be in effect while the OIR and NCCI appeal a case from the Leon Circuit Court last month.

“Many businesses are telling us that a $1.5 billion increase means they will be forced to raise prices, reduce benefits, delay hiring, or even cut existing jobs, in order to cover this increase in their premiums,” said JOHNSON. “The Florida Chamber has led the charge to lower rates more than 60 percent in the last 13 years and has helped injured workers return to work 10 days faster- we will not be distracted by trial lawyer tactics and will continue to advocate for a legislative remedy to this issue.”

 

Did You Know the Florida Chamber’s Workers’ Comp Task Force is Working on a Solution to the $1.5 Billion Increase?

Learn more about the Florida Chamber’s Workers’ Comp Task Force and its work on a legislative solution to the $1.5 billion increase to Florida’s business community.

Choose Between Paying Higher Workers’ Comp Rates and Hiring New Employees

19.6% Workers’ Comp Rate Increase Could Impact You

It’s time for a legislative solution.

Today, the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI) announced a recommended 19.6 percent workers’ comp rate increase, proposed effective beginning October 1.

If the rate filing is approved as filed increasing rates by 19.6 percent, Florida will have the highest premiums in the Southeast.

The increase results from two recent Florida Supreme Court rulings that deemed Florida’s attorney fee provision unconstitutional (Castellanos v. Next Door Company), and declared the current cap for temporary total disability (104 weeks) unconstitutional (Westphal v. City of St. Petersburg). According to the release by NCCI, “NCCI estimates that the impact of Westphal will be an increase in overall Florida workers compensation system costs of +2.2%.”

The Florida Chamber believes the Florida Legislature must address this rate increase to avoid harming Florida’s growing economy and private-sector job growth.

Get Involved:

The Florida Chamber’s Workers’ Compensation Task Force has been engaging Florida’s highest elected leaders since last year, preparing them for this outcome, and advocating for a legislative solution. We need your voice to help find a solution. Learn how you can join the Florida Chamber’s Workers’ Comp Task Force.

Learn More:

Read the Florida Chamber’s full release on today’s workers’ comp recommendation.
Read Mark Wilson’s, President and CEO of the Florida Chamber, article in the Naples Daily News, Let’s Keep Florida’s Workers’ Comp System Working.

Attacks Continue on Florida’s Workers’ Comp System

While the Florida Chamber of Commerce continues to monitor the Florida Supreme Court for a decision on the three workers’ compensation cases before the Court, this week a decision was issued by the First District Court of Appeals that is disconcerting for the workers’ comp system.

Miles v City of Edgewater opens the door for other injured parties to hire their own attorneys, and for attorneys to start taking workers’ comp cases on a non-contingency basis. This could increase litigation, increase the amount of awards, and lengthen court battles.

The intent of the workers’ comp attorney fee statute is to prevent unnecessary and drawn out litigation from taking place, and ensure that claims have merit. While the result of the decision in Miles v. City of Edgewater is that the claimant or a third party has the right to contract and pay for an attorney beyond the contingency fee basis, a concern is that attorneys will prey on injured workers to pay their own fees and an increase in meritless lawsuits will occur.

It is unclear yet whether this case will be appealed to the Florida Supreme Court, or if this could have an impact on rates. NCCI, the state’s rating agency, will be examining the financial impact of this case in the coming weeks to determine if workers’ comp rates will need to be increased.

Take Action Now

Florida’s business climate is a key factor in businesses expanding and relocating to Florida – that means we must ensure workers’ comp rates remain affordable. The Florida Chamber’s Economic Development Task Force, which will launch in May, will discuss important business climate issues driving business decisions. To learn more and to be part of the conversation, contact Carolyn Johnson at cjohnson@flchamber.com.

Workers’ Compensation Rates Have Dropped 60 Percent Since 2003

In 2003, Florida had the second highest workers’ compensation premium in the country. In 2014, that number decreased by nearly 60 percent.

Workers’ comp is insurance coverage purchased by businesses to provide wage replacement and medical benefits to employees injured in the course of employment. It ensures the safety of Florida’s workforce, but fraudulent claims, cost shifting and attorney fees can result in unnecessary expenses and increased insurance premiums, driving rates up.

As Florida’s workforce prepares for 2 million net new jobs needed by 2030, how will we continue to improve workers’ comp costs and maintain a competitive business climate, while helping injured workers get the medical assistance they need?

Court Rules In Favor of Job Creators/Against Trial Lawyers

The Third District Court of Appeals today ruled against trial lawyers, and in favor of the Florida Chamber and the state’s business community in a case that will help keep workers’ comp rates fair.

In a closely-watched case, Florida v. Florida Workers Advocates (also called the Padgett case), trial lawyers questioned the constitutionality of Florida’s entire workers’ comp system – claiming that the Florida Legislature has eroded workers’ comp benefits so severely that it should not be an exclusive remedy. In its ruling against the trial lawyers, the court found that Florida Workers Advocates did not have standing, nor was the case “moot.”

The Florida Chamber, in conjunction with our partners at the Florida Justice Reform Institute, filed an Amicus Brief on behalf of Florida’s business community, pointing out that the workers’ comp system should be the sole remedy if a worker is injured.

Ensuring Florida’s workers’ comp system is fair and not inflated by trial lawyer tactics and other unnecessary costs will help lower the cost of doing business in Florida. That’s why the Florida Chamber led the effort to help lower workers’ comp rates by more than 50 percent in the last 10 years.

What’s Next?

If this case is appealed, its next stop would be the Florida Supreme Court. In addition to this case, the Florida Supreme Court has already held oral arguments on two additional workers’ comp cases:

  • Castellanos v. Next Door Company, and
  • Westphal v. City of St Petersburg.

All three cases represent trial lawyers attempting to erode Florida’s workers comp system – an effort that could significantly increase workers’ comp rates.

Join Our Team

The Florida Chamber is committed to defending Florida’s business community against costly trial lawyer tactics and keeping workers’ comp rates low. Add your voice to the growing team of business advocates at the Florida Chamber by emailing cjohnson@flchamber.com.

Supreme Court Decision Further Harms Florida’s Economy/Job Growth

Florida Chamber Encourages a Legislative Fix to Bring Certainty Back to Employers and Workers 

TALLAHASSEE, FL. (June 9 , 2016) – Florida job creators were dealt another blow today as Florida’s high court, for the second time in less than two months, ruled against businesses in a case that causes even greater uncertainty in Florida’s workers’ compensation system, the Florida Chamber of Commerce said today. Today’s ruling comes just two weeks after NCCI announced a 17.1 percent recommended workers’ comp rate increase.

Today’s ruling in the Westphal v. City of St. Petersburg case declared the current system for temporary total disability (104 weeks) unconstitutional. The result of this case, compounded with the recent negative ruling in the Castellanos v. Next Door Company case, likely puts Florida’s workers’ comp rates back on the path toward the record level rates of the early 2000s.

“With job creators already facing a 17.1 percent workers’ comp rate increase, today’s ruling causes even more uncertainty, and is a further sign that Florida’s workers’ comp system is under attack,” said Mark Wilson, President and CEO of the Florida Chamber of Commerce. “A legislative solution for both cases will help bring certainty back to Florida’s job creators and injured workers that Florida’s workers’ comp system is working.”

In the last 13 years, the Florida Chamber has led efforts to help lower workers’ comp rates by nearly 60 percent. Those efforts continue today, as the Florida Chamber’s 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.

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Established in 1916 as Florida’s first statewide business advocacy organization, the Florida Chamber of Commerce is the voice of business and the state’s largest federation of employers, chambers of commerce and associations aggressively representing small and large businesses from every industry and every region. The Florida Chamber works within all branches of government to affect those changes set forth in the annual Florida Business Agenda, and which are seen as crucial to secure Florida’s future. The Florida Chamber works closely with its Florida Political Operations and the Florida Chamber Foundation. Visit www.FLChamber.com for more information.
136 South Bronough Street, Tallahassee, FL 32301

Florida Supreme Court Workers’ Comp Decision Favorable for Business

Florida Chamber Reports Win for Businesses in Worker’s Comp Case

In a unanimous decision, the Florida Supreme Court this morning issued an opinion in the Morales v. Zenith Insurance Company case that upheld the workers’ compensation system as the exclusive remedy for injured parties. A separate tort case had been filed by the claimant’s estate seeking additional damages, which the Court rejected.

What does this mean for Florida’s businesses? The Florida workers’ compensation system remains intact and is the only means for injured employees to collect damages from an employment related injury.

Because workers’ compensation is the exclusive remedy, the Supreme Court ruled that the workers’ compensation exclusion bars coverage of the estate’s tort judgment under the employer liability policy and the claimant could not collect the tort judgment from the workers’ compensation insurer.

This decision is the first of three cases before the Florida Supreme Court, which include Castellanos v. Next Door Company, and Westphal v. St. Petersburg. The Florida Chamber of Commerce filed amicus curiae briefs along with the Florida Justice Reform Institute on these cases to advocate on behalf of the business community and decisions that won’t cause rates to be inflated by extraneous lawsuits. We will keep you up to date on the progress of these cases.

Florida Chamber Fights for Workers’ Comp Attorney Fee Caps in Supreme Court

When the Florida Supreme Court heard oral arguments today in a high profile workers’ comp case (Castellanos v. Next Door Company,) a Florida Chamber of Commerce and Florida Justice Reform Institute joint amicus brief served as a defense tool in a battle to maintain caps on attorneys’ fees in workers’ comp cases.

Former Justice Raoul Cantero, arguing on behalf of employer Next Door Company, cited the Florida Chamber/Justice Reform Institute joint amicus brief to refute arguments the petitioners made regarding the reasonability of attorneys’ fee caps.

Florida Chamber Executive Vice President David Hart, and I attended the proceedings on behalf of Florida’s employers.

This is the third workers’ comp case currently before the Florida Supreme Court challenging the constitutionality of the workers’ comp system. Another case is pending before the Third District Court of Appeal.

The Florida Chamber and our partners at the Florida Justice Reform Institute have filed an amicus curiae brief on each of these cases. These cases challenge the gap between temporary and total permanent disability, whether bad faith applies in workers’ comp and whether workers’ comp should serve as an exclusive remedy.

A decision against the business community in any one of these cases could have a significant impact on workers’ comp rates.

Oral arguments have been completed on each of the three cases before the Florida Supreme Court, and it is not clear on when the Supreme Court will make a decision. The Florida Chamber is committed to fighting on behalf of Florida employers. We are actively involved and monitoring these cases closely and are ready to take action when a decision is made.

Are Workers’ Comp Issues Impacting Your Business?

We want to hear from you. Share your workers’ comp story by emailing me at cjohnson@flchamber.com.