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.