Trial attorneys issued a denunciation Monday of the workers’ compensation reform package now headed for a House floor vote.
HB 7085 is “a handout to the insurance industry and its big-business allies – one that does little to benefit injured workers or most employers,” the Florida Justice Association said in a written statement.
“The plan wipes out countless injured workers’ ability to afford legal help when insurance companies wrongfully deny benefits, without providing other new benefits to offset this added burden,” the organization said.
Real reform would allow workers some choice in their doctors, a “mid-level” tier for benefits, competition between insurers on rates, and “reasonable” attorney fees, said Richard Chait, chairman of the workers’ compensation section.
“The eventual outcome of the current approach will be that more injured workers will receive inadequate health care treatment to help them recover,” he said.
“Injured workers will be hard-pressed to return to work with their employer, and this will put an additional drain on government social programs. In the end, the burden for those costs will be shouldered by Florida taxpayers.”
The House bill passed it’s final committee stop Thursday. It would retain a fee schedule for attorneys who prevail in benefits challenges, but would allow them to charge insurers as much as $150 per hour on approval by a judge of compensation claims.
Insurers would be spared paying fees for claims upon which they prevail — meaning the workers would have to pick up the tab.
Senate legislation, SB 1582, is friendlier toward the trial bar.
“The (House) bill in its current form misses an opportunity to enact true, balanced, and comprehensive reform to make the system better for injured workers,” Chait added. “The only people smiling about this proposal are the corporate and insurance special interests who received a windfall at the expense of workers.”
House Insurance & Banking Subcommittee chairman Danny Burgess has defended the bill as striking a balance between the needs of injured workers, employers, and insurers.
“There’s no question that the injured worker is one piece of the heart of the balance of the grand bargain,” Burgess said in an interview last week.
Update: Later, Associated Industries of Florida released its own statement on behalf of Brewster Bevis, senior vice president of state and federal affairs for Associated Industries of Florida.
“Contrary to the trial lawyers looking out for their own self interests, Florida’s employers and employees are at the top of mind with the newly amended workers’ compensation legislation,” Bevis said.
The House bill “addresses key measures that allow for a stable, self-executing and affordable workers’ compensation system for injured workers,” he continued.
“The trial lawyers plain and simply do not like this legislation because it does not allow them to get richer on the backs of injured workers. On behalf of Florida’s business community, we look forward to seeing this legislation advance so Florida’s employees are able to get healthier at reasonable rates to Florida employers.”