Associated Industries of Florida and other business groups released a proposal Tuesday aimed at holding down workers' compensation insurance rates — including revamping a state law about fees paid to injured workers' attorneys.
Associated Industries and other groups, such as the National Federation of Independent Business, released the proposal after a pair of Florida Supreme Court rulings last year helped lead to a 14.5 percent insurance rate increase. The Supreme Court, in part, ruled that a law strictly limiting attorney fees was unconstitutional.
The business groups released a 12-page proposed bill that would eliminate the limits on attorney fees. Instead it proposes that injured workers would be responsible for paying their attorney fees and that judges could not award attorney fees that would have to be paid by employers or insurance carriers. The bill also would make a series of other changes dealing with workers' compensation claims.
Tom Feeney, president and CEO of Associated Industries, said the proposal came after the business groups formed a task force and held town-hall meetings across the state.
"Today, we're proud to announce that as a result of this hard work, we are proposing a bill that will help injured workers to get healthier while relieving Florida employers from severe rate pressures and a court system that is on the fritz," Feeney, a former state House speaker and congressman, said in a prepared statement. "This legislation will allow Floridians to avoid unnecessary, costly and time consuming litigation and to get benefits into the hands of injured workers as soon as possible."
But the proposal quickly drew criticism from Richard Chait, an attorney who chairs the Workers' Compensation Section of the Florida Justice Association.
"From the beginning, this rate increase has been a blatant cash grab by the insurance industry masquerading as a lifeline for small businesses," Chait said in a prepared statement. "Reforming the workers' comp system in Florida requires taking a detailed look into the systematic process that insurance companies use to habitually deny injured workers the medical care and resulting benefits, which are appropriate. This in turn hurts employers and the men and women who work for them by interfering with the provision of benefits legally due to those who suffer work-related injuries."
Lawmakers are expected to grapple with changes in the workers' compensation system during the annual legislative session that starts March 7.