by The Daily Business Review’s Samantha Joseph
November 29, 2016
Florida businesses have Miami attorney James Fee to thank for staving off a 14.5 percent hike in their workers’ compensation premiums.
Fee, a 26-year litigator and partner at Druckman & Fee, prevailed in a suit to force transparency into the process for setting employers’ premiums. His victory is likely to hinder the scheduled Dec. 1 double-digit rate increase that sent businesses scurrying to find ways to cover the additional expense and had led groups like the Florida Chamber of Commerce to form special task forces.
“I’ve been looking at it for a number of years and felt that this is a fundamentally flawed system because there is no competition,” Fee said.
Florida is one of a few states in the U.S. that uses an administered pricing system for workers’ compensation insurance. Under that system, carriers all hire the same contractor to pitch changes and set rates on their behalf with regulators, instead of allowing market forces to determine pricing. Their proxy is Boca Raton-based bureau National Council on Compensation Insurance Inc., or NCCI.
Fee claimed the private company and state regulator contravened Florida’s Government in the Sunshine Law, designed to provide access to records and public agencies. He sued NCCI, Florida’s Office of Insurance Regulation and insurance commissioner David Altmaier for declaratory and injunctive relief, claiming they excluded the public from talks on the rate increase.
Fee said the lawsuit was prompted by frustration over repeated refusals by the government agency and NCCI to provide information on the rate hike. He claimed a refusal to turn over public records and failure to comply with public meeting requirements, as required by state law.
The suit was filed in Miami-Dade but was later moved to Leon County on a motion by the Tallahassee-based regulator.
Court records suggest the defendants disregarded Fee’s requests for statutory supporting information, and allowed his actuary to view—but not copy—documents in its files before the hearing.
“I did everything in my power to try to deal with this situation without litigation,” Fee said.
Leon Circuit Judge Karen Gievers adjudicated a nearly five-hour-long evidentiary hearing before ruling in Fee’s favor on Nov. 23, one week before insurance premiums were scheduled to rise.
“With this order in place, the rate increase cannot go into effect,” Fee’s attorney, John Shubin of Shubin & Bass in Miami, said. [READ MORE]