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Worker’s Comp battle looming for lawmakers, business and workers

January 8th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

State lawmakers got a preview of the biggest legislative battle on the horizon earlier this month. Businesses across Florida are unhappy about a coming  14 and a half percent hike in the cost of workers compensation insurance. Both businesses and labor advocates are blaming legal fees for the spike.

The 14 and a half percent hike applies to all new and renewing policies. It has business trade groups up in arms. Brewster Bevis is the Senior Vice President of Associated Industries of Florida.

“This isn’t to help workers get healthier” says Bevis.

The hikes also impact local governments says Eve Tooley, Bay County’s Risk Manager.

“Our workers comp program will cost  us approximately 650 percent more” she says.

The Supreme Court threw the old law out because its capped attorneys fees. In one case, lawyers were working for a buck and a half an hour.

The states business trade groups say employee’s lawyers are greedy.

“Look” says AIF’s Bevis “I don’t think that court decision had anything to do with keep workers healthy. I think it had to do more with making attorneys more wealthy.”

Trial lawyers say they wouldn’t be needed if insurers stopped denying claims.

Kimberly Syfrett is an Attorney for the Florida Worker’s Advocates Group.

“Attorney fees don’t attach until I prove my case” she told lawmakers.

And In a preview of the rancor to come, the two sides squared off at what was supposed to be merely an information Senate meeting.

Sen. Gary Farmer, a lawyer, asked Associated Industries some tough questions. “Does AIF believe that those prevailing plaintiff fees should be included in the rate making base?”

Jim McConnaughhay responded.  “Absolutely. It’s a cost to industry. Absolutely.”

Farmer persisted,  “Even though it’s industries fault they were incurred?”

To which McConnaughhay replied “You know whether they were rightfully or wrongfully denied, it was determined by some judge that they should be paid.”

Sen.. Gary Farmer argues that by counting insurers legal fees as an expense, there is no incentive to pay claims, because they profit the same either way.

And Business say if fees aren’t controlled. We all pay.

Florida is one of just 9 states that does not allow completion in workers comp coverage. Rates are recommend by an industry controlled panel. Legal fees for companies fighting claims make up about two thirds of all legal fees paid.

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