Justices Urge Lawmakers To Fix Workers Comp

Jun 13, 2016

Two recent Florida Supreme Court rulings have labor and business groups calling for a legislative overhaul of the state’s worker compensation system.

A pair of recent Florida Supreme Court rulings have workers and employers bracing for a legislative overhaul of the worker compensation system.

Last month, the Supreme Court struck down limits on attorney fees in worker compensation cases. Last week, the court invalidated a part of the law that limits the amount of time someone can collect temporary disability.

National Federation of Independent Business Florida director Bill Herrle says worker’s comp rates could climb by 17 percent.

“The economic impact on job creators in this state I think will compel the Legislature into action. That will more than likely be the newly installed Legislature.”

Businesses across Florida will collectively absorb a 623 million-dollar increase if regulators approve recently requested rate hikes. And the increases could take effect as soon as August 1st.

The system is designed to avoid lawsuits and get injured workers treated quickly.  But critics say workers lost benefits as lawmakers moved to cut costs for employers and insurance companies. Attorney Mark Zientz of the Workers Injury Law and Advocacy Group says studies prove it.

“The employers are only paying 20 or 21 percent of the cost of injuries on the job and the rest is being absorbed by either the injured worker and his family, or by public health systems, or Medicare or Medicaid or by other sources.”

Justice Fred Lewis wrote in a concurring opinion that lawmakers need to make a major overhaul. But Zientz says he’s not sure if injured workers would be better off if they just sued their bosses instead.

Herrle disagrees the system has lost sight of injured workers. But he says businesses look forward to making it work better.

 “Florida’s benefits for injured workers compares very well when you look at other states. But we’re going to be making some of those comparisons and looking where we can enrich and streamline some of those benefits.”

Lawmakers made the last significant changes during a special session in 2003. But experts don’t expect that to happen in election year.