Associated Industries of Florida chief Tom Feeney had praise Thursday for amendments that would bring the House workers’ compensation reform bill closer to business interests’ ideal.
“AIF today calls on members of the Florida House Commerce Committee to adopt the amendments to HB 7085 that will go a long way in rectifying our state’s wounded workers’ compensation system,” Feeney said in a written statement.
“While there is still more work to be done to make Florida’s workers’ compensation system whole again, these good amendments support some of the fixes Florida’s business community proposed under our Florida Workers’ Compensation Strategic Task Force.
Under the amendments filed this week to HB 7085, attorneys filing benefits challenges would have to stipulate to the time they have put into a case before trial, to prevent bill padding.
House Insurance & Banking chairman Danny Burgess was expected to present the bill and amendments later in the day before the Commerce Committee
Attorney fees would not be available unless the worker wins — and he or she would be stuck with the legal costs of pursuing losing claims. The attorney would have to notify the worker in writing of that possibility.
Insurers would have 45 days to review claims, so they can approve any they think have merit and avoid litigation.
They could ask a second judge to review a fee award.
The Florida Supreme Court last year struck down the state’s mandatory fee schedule, linking attorney payments to benefits won, as an unconstitutional bar to the right of access to the courts.
Critics of the ruling, including AIF, blame it for most of the 14.5 percent premium increase that began to take effect in December.
The amendments would retain the fee schedule, but allow departures amounting to no more than $150 per billable hour.
And, bowing to a separate Supreme Court ruling, the amendments would extend total disability payments to for workers yet to reach maximum medical improvement.
“AIF commends Rep. Burgess and the committee for their hard work on this legislation,” Feeney said.
“It is imperative we relieve burdensome pressures on Florida’s employers while ensuring injured workers get healthier in a timely manor. Florida deserves a stable, self-executing and affordable system to care for injured workers. With these amendments adopted today, HB 7085 could provide a solid framework for containing the crises created by hostile Florida Court decisions that would otherwise undercut Florida’s workers’ compensation system.”