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Groups: Workers Compensation Bill is Bad for Workers' and Businesses' Health

May 21, 2009

Time is running out for Governor Crist to veto an eleventh-hour bill that would cap the amount of money injured workers can pay their attorneys to fight denied worker compensation claims. That the legislature didn’t also cap what insurance companies can spend has labor groups and trial attorneys crying foul and calling for a veto. House Bill 903 resurrects a 2003 bill that resulted in workers’ attorneys being paid as little as $8.00 per hour, which the Supreme Court ruled last year was unfair to workers.

Rich Templin, spokesman for the AFL-CIO, says workers are suffering from denied claims.

"They’re losing their houses; they’re losing their families; their losing their ability to provide health care for their kids, and they did nothing wrong. All they did was go to work and get hurt. But, because the insurance company wants to maximize its profit, these people are paying the price."

Supporters of the legislation, led by the Florida Chambers of Commerce, argue that this is the only way to reduce costs, and without caps on attorney’s fees, Florida worker compensation insurance premiums would again be among the highest in the nation. The state’s trial attorneys say many injured workers have been denied claims and have been unable to find counsel because the fees are too low.

Templin says the new bill caps worker's attorney fees at $1,500.

"No attorney is going to take that case, so that person is up against some of the biggest, most powerful insurance lawyers in the country. The insurance company hasn't been capped; it can still spend however much on legal representation as it wants while the workers get nothing. "

Fee caps remove the incentive for insurance companies to "do the right thing" by providing the coverage for injured workers that businesses are paying for, adds Templin.

"Insurance companies are routinely denying claims, even stuff that should be covered - that’s completely valid and completely fair - because there's no recourse for the worker. There is no way for them to get legal representation."

A recent study by the Department of Worker’s Compensation found litigation has declined since the restrictions imposed in 2003, while the number of denied claims has steadily increased.

For more information, visit www.fldfs.com/wc/pdf/SB-50A-Compensability.pdf.

Gina Presson , Public News Service - FL