Legislators seek balance between injured workers, employers

by | Jul 13, 2016

Legislative leaders joined with members of the Jacksonville business community today for a town hall meeting to discuss and share the impact of the state’s workers’ compensation system on employers and employees. The meeting was the third and final stop for the Associated Industries of Florida (AIF) and it’s 2016 Helping Florida Work Town Hall Tour. The group also held events in Tampa and Miami.

Senators Aaron Bean and Audrey Gibson, along with Representative Cyndi Stevenson, joined AIF President & CEO Tom Feeney at the event.

“Today in Jacksonville, we were able to share with the Northeast Florida business community why the workers’ compensation system worked in Florida before the recent Supreme Court rulings, and how important it is that our state’s leaders have the resources they need as discussions continue on this topic heading into the 2017 Legislative Session,” Feeney said. “We appreciate Senators Aaron Bean and Audrey Gibson, as well as Representative Cyndi Stevenson for attending the town hall and discussing their views on the workers’ compensation system with us. Since the 2003 workers’ compensation reforms were enacted, both Florida employees and employers have experienced drastic improvements in the system and have made Florida a model that most other states aim to replicate.”

The goal of the event is to help find a solution that allows for a balanced system of adequate medical and wage benefits for injured employees, at an affordable cost to employers.

The National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB) co-sponsored the event, along with dozens of other groups.

“The Helping Florida Work Town Hall Tour was a great way to bring people together in our community to discuss the recent changes to the workers’ compensation system that continue to threaten job growth and economic success for Florida businesses,” said NFIB Executive Director Bill Herrle. “It is essential that we do all we can to safeguard Florida’s workers’ compensation system, and we applaud our local leaders for being a part of the conversation today that will hopefully serve as a springboard for sound solutions.”

In a press release, the 2016 Helping Florida Work Town Hall Tour provided supporting information to bolster the case that the system worked better prior to recent Supreme Court rulings.

Worked for Employees:

  • Workplaces are safer – on-the-job injuries have declined about 30 percent in Florida since 2003.
  • Injured workers get medical treatment more easily without litigation.
  • More than 80 percent of all work injuries are resolved without litigation even though attorneys are still involved in over 40 percent of cases – no decline since 2003.
  • Injured workers return to work quicker and receive higher benefits if they are unable to earn their pre-injury wage.
  • More employees have coverage because fraudulent employers are investigated, fined and prosecuted for trying to evade the law requiring all employers to purchase workers’ compensation insurance.
    Medical bills are timely paid 99 percent of the time due to increase penalties and reporting requirements imposed by the state.

Worked for Employers:

  • Since 2003, when our rates were the highest in the nation, employers have realized an average 59.1 percent rate reduction. Even with four years of rate increases (2011-2014), Florida was ranked 24th lowest countrywide in 2016.
  • Over 95 percent of all employers are able to secure coverage in the private market signaling a healthy system that is sustainable in the self-executing manner the Florida Legislature intended when it passed this law in 2003.

What About the Lawyers?

Statutory benefit levels provided for injured workers have been legally challenged in only one case before the Florida Supreme Court – Westphal v. City of St. Petersburg. While the court ruled the 104-week cap on temporary total disability benefits unconstitutional, the reality is that most injured workers return to work in a small fraction of that time. The facts of Westphal are a rarity, but the unconstitutional ruling will incentivize litigation and unnecessary delay settlements.
Attorney fee issues are the only significant subject of the current law that has been repeatedly challenged and appealed in the courts since the passage.
The Castellanos court sanctioned an excessive fee of $38,000 for securing an $800 benefit. Injured workers will NOT receive greater benefits under this ruling – but the lawyers will see bigger paydays.

 

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