Disputed Workers’ Comp Bill Passes
By BRENT KALLESTAD
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published: Friday, May 1, 2009 at 12:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, May 2, 2009 at 5:19 a.m.
TALLAHASSEE | A bill that would negate a Florida Supreme Court ruling and restore a cap on attorneys’ fees in workers’ compensation cases is headed for the desk of Gov. Charlie Crist after being passed Friday by the Senate.
The bill (HB 903) passed on a 22-16 vote, effectively trumping the high court’s decision in Ocbober that struck down the cap on lawyer fees.
The justices ruled attorneys should be paid reasonably for representing injured workers.
The Supreme Court decision was in the case of a nurse who was injured lifting a patient at a nursing home.
Her lawyer helped her win $3,344 in lost wages and medical expenses after her initial claim was denied.
The law, though, limited his fee to about $8 an hour, while the insurance company’s lawyers were paid about $150 an hour.
The new legislation passed Friday was hailed by business groups who said it saves small business owners from higher workers’ compensation rates.
Trial lawyers, however, argued the bill prevents injured workers from having the representation needed to fight insurers that refuse to pay doctor bills.
"This version of the bill is greatly unfair to Florida’s injured workers and first responders," said Florida Justice Association spokeswoman Jacqui Sisto, adding the constitutionality of the measure would likely be challenged again.
But a business group director disputed that.
"Without this legislation and without the fee schedule, small business owners would have been paying hundreds of millions of dollars in workers’ compensation insurance," said Bill Herrle, executive director of the National Federal of Independent Business/Florida.
"The savings can be invested where they belong, back into the economy – not in the hands of insurance companies."
Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty signed off on a 6.4 percent increase on workers’ compensation rates in January that took effect April 1, which was estimated to cost Florida business owners $170 million.