In a new op-ed,
Tampa Bay Times columnist John Romano recently confronted what many of us have known about
Florida's workers' compensation system for some time: that it
unfairly favors insurance providers, burdens businesses with higher premiums
and, ultimately, leaves claimants with little opportunity to secure the
benefits they deserve.
To understand the latest turn in Florida workers' compensation laws,
you first have to go back to a controversial policy established in 2009.
As Romano explains, that was the year the governor approved a law that
limited the legal fees attorneys representing workers' comp claimants
could collect. The idea was to reduce workers' comp costs statewide
by eliminating the opportunity for exorbitant legal fees that accumulate
with workers' comp disputes.
However, the law put a tremendous restriction on claimants' access
to legal counsel. In one case recounted by Romano, a lawyer made $1.53
an hour representing a workers' comp claimant. It wasn't long
before claimants had trouble find representation at all and, as insurance
experts even admitted, it was mostly unheard of for a claimant facing
a dispute to secure benefits without a lawyer.
The 2009 workers' compensation law was ruled unconstitutional by the
state Supreme Court-- a determination the body has made on Florida workers'
comp laws three times in seven years. In response, however, insurance
providers are now asking the courts to approve premium hikes. Essentially,
in anticipation of losing more court cases (now that lawyers will actually
take them on), providers want to cover their losses by charging Florida
businesses more money.
"What they're saying is: We're going to deny benefits, and
if we end up losing in court, we're going to raise premiums and pass
the cost on to our customers," Lawyer Mark Touby told Romano. "It's
a great business model. They can't lose."
Unfortunately, Florida lawmakers are pointing the finger at workers'
compensation lawyers, insisting that greedy firms are going after big
paychecks. As Romano astutely points out, however, this is not the case.
In Touby's landmark Supreme Court case last April, he was fighting
for a mere $800 in medical bills for his client-- $800 an insurance provider
thought it could keep from a claimant because it knew that claimant had
little to no legal options.
It is Romano's hope—as it is the hope of many—that the
state legislature realizes this when it comes time to re-examine Florida's
workers' compensation laws this coming spring.
If you are a worker that has been hurt on the job, legal representation
may be necessary to secure the benefits you deserve. At
Smith & Stallworth, Attorneys at Law, our Tampa workers' compensation lawyers understand the challenges
claimants face in this process and how far providers will go to protect
their bottom line. We have the resources and experience negotiate, fight,
and even litigate on our clients' behalf to ensure their claim is
given the consideration it deserves.
Want to learn more about our firm can do for you during this uncertain time?
Contact us today.