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Workers' Comp Bill Helps Floridians

Workers' Comp Bill Helps Floridians

May 24, 2009 | By William Large

In 2003, Florida's workers' compensation system was in crisis. Premiums ranked among the highest in the country. To restore the system's efficiency and protect the state's economy, the Legislature and Gov. Jeb Bush reformed Florida's workers' compensation system, limiting both overall attorney compensation and the recovery of prevailing-party attorney's fees.

The reforms worked, resulting in significant decreases in the cost of workers' compensation insurance for Florida's small businesses and employers.

In October, the Florida Supreme Court overturned a lower court's decision in Murray vs. Mariner, which challenged the cap on attorney's fees put in place by the Legislature when they passed the workers' compensation reforms in 2003.

The 2003 reforms worked, resulting in the significant decreases in the cost of workers' compensation insurance for businesses and employers. But the Supreme Court ruling effectively overturned those reforms, reversing the recent savings in workers' compensation rates.

Shortly after the court's decision, Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty noted that the savings could be short-lived as a result of the Oct. 23 ruling by the state's high court:

"The reduction of attorney participation in workers' compensation cases has been cited as one of the significant causes of the reduction in rates since the 2003 legislative reforms. Limitations on attorney fees have helped Florida employers to realize a significant savings on their workers' compensation insurance."

As Commissioner McCarty astutely notes, one of the biggest drivers of Florida's skyrocketing workers' compensation rates was that there was no threshold for attorneys' fees. The Legislature's intent with the 2003 reforms was to remove the discretionary factors that allowed attorneys to receive a windfall for pursuing workers' compensation claims.

Thankfully, during the recent legislative session, lawmakers stepped in and cleaned up the workers' compensation legislation to clarify the law to reinstate the cap on attorneys' fees and to address the Supreme Court's concerns.

This legislation is important not only for Florida businesses but for workers, too. The reduction in the cost for businesses and employers has traditionally resulted in their ability to grow and thrive in Florida, creating more jobs and higher wages - a win-win for all of us in these tough economic times.

William Large is president of the Florida Justice Reform Institute.