Florida: Governor signs bill to reinstate fee caps for workers' comp attorneys
The legislation was drafted after the Florida Supreme Court eliminated the statutory caps on attorney's fees last October in Murray v. Mariner Health Inc. These limits were imposed under the state's comprehensive workers' comp reforms enacted in 2003. Rep. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, sponsored House Bill 903, which revised the amount of attorney's fees that may be paid and required them to be subject to the approval of a workers' comp claims judge or court. Companion legislation, S. 2072, was introduced by Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples.
Under the legislation, which goes into effect July 1, plaintiff attorneys will be limited to 20 percent of the first $5,000 awarded in a workers' comp case and 15 percent of the second $5,000 awarded. In addition, attorneys are limited to 10 percent of any award more than $10,000 that is provided for the first 10 years, and 5 percent of any amount awarded that is provided after 10 years. Hourly fees will not be allowed under the legislation.
Commissioner revises rate recommendation. Critics of the Supreme Court decision feared that the removal of the attorney's fee caps would lead to high workers' comp rates for employers in the state. Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty agreed and based his decision to increase comp rates by 6.4 percent earlier this year on the anticipated impact of the ruling. However, shortly after the governor signed the bill into law, McCarty issued a revised rate recommendation, which rolled back the increase that went into effect April 1.
McCarty said his decision was based on a recent filing by the National Council on Compensation Insurance that indicated that the passage of the legislation should enable the state to better control workers' comp rates. The approved rate decrease, McCarty said, will save Florida employers about $172 million in insurance costs and effectively restores the 18.6 percent rate decrease that took effect at the beginning of the year.
"I am pleased that Gov. Charlie Crist and the Florida Legislature recognized the importance of keeping our workers' compensation rates down," he said. "I believe that injured workers still will have appropriate access to the legal system while also still keeping workers' compensation rates affordable for employers."
Business advocacy groups also applauded the move.
"This legislation ensures injured workers receive more in benefits than plaintiffs' trial lawyers do in fees," said Mark Wilson, president and CEO of the Florida Chamber of Commerce. "The signing of this critical legislation is a victory for Florida's employers, especially small businesses, who cannot afford higher costs simply to increase attorney's fees."
Prior to the legislative reforms, McCarty said Florida consistently ranked in the top two states with the highest workers' comp rates. The state has since dropped out of the top 10. The 18.6 percent reduction that went into effect Jan. 1 was the sixth consecutive drop in workers' comp rates since the state passed the reforms.
June 18, 2009
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