by Politico’s Christine Sexton
November 28, 2016
The National Council on Compensation Insurance, which sets workers’ compensation rates, will appeal Wednesday’s ruling by Leon County Circuit Court Judge Karen Gievers to strike down a 14.5 percent increase in rates slated to take effect on Dec. 1.
“We continue to believe that NCCI and the Florida OIR have fully complied with the law,” said Dean W. Dimkhe, a spokesman for NCCI, in an email Wednesday to POLITICO Florida.
Amy Bogner, a spokeswoman for the Office of Insurance Regulation, also named as a defendant in the lawsuit, told POLITICO Florida in an email that it was “in the process of reviewing it to determine next steps.”
In her 73-page ruling Gievers — who once ran for insurance commissioner — said that the NCCI violated Florida’s sunshine law in developing the proposed rate increases.
South Florida attorney James Fee had sued the the NCCI for not holding public meetings and refusing to provide documents supporting the proposed increase. In addition to the OIR, he also sued state insurance commissioner David Altmaier. In his suit, Fee claimed to have met with Altmaier in July to express his concerns.
Paul Jess, general counsel of the Florida Justice Association, applauded the court’s “wise decision to strike down an outrageous, unsupported and indefensible rate hike on Florida’s employers.”
“Workers’ compensation insurance companies have enjoyed profit increases as they’ve flagrantly denied legitimate claims,” said Jess in a statement to POLITICO Florida. “This greed-driven practice hampers the ability of working Floridians to return to their jobs.”
Mark Touby, president of Florida Workers’ Advocates, hailed the ruling as a “tremendous victory for Florida businesses and the workers they employ.”
“It is our hope that this well-reasoned ruling will put a halt to NCCI’s history of secret meetings and outrageous rate-hike requests, which only served to bail out the insurance companies’ alarming pattern of denying legitimate claims and then making Florida employers cover the cost of those errors,” he said in a statement to POLITICO Florida.
The Florida Chamber issued a statement Wednesday saying that the judge’s ruling isn’t a “victory” for Florida businesses, but just another example of a classic trial lawyer tactic.
“The rates may not go up on December 1st, but this is only temporary. What won’t stop, however, is that trial lawyers will use this time to continue enjoying the benefit of unlimited legal fees in workers’ comp cases,” said Carolyn Johnson, Director of Business Economic Development & Innovation Policy for the Florida Chamber.
The Florida Chamber has tried to make workers compensation a high priority issue in the Florida Legislature, but legislative leaders have not jumped on board.
Business, who say higher rates pose a financial burden, are pushing the Legislature to respond to a tandem of state Supreme Court rulings that they say strike at the heart of the sweeping 2003 workers compensation law.
The Florida Supreme Court earlier this year ruled that the caps on plaintiffs attorneys fees were unconstitutional. The court also ruled that a two-year limitation on permanent total disabilities in the state’s workers compensation system is unconstitutional.
Business interests, including the Florida Chamber, want the Legislature to address attorney involvement and say that without a fix to the ruling plaintiffs attorneys can try to recover fees on open cases stemming as far back as 2009.
Neither Senate President Joe Negron nor House Speaker Richard Corcoran mentioned workers compensation in their opening day remarks and it’s unclear how lawmakers may seek to resolve the controversial issue. [READ MORE]