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Injured workers with wrongly denied claims catch a break because of Legislative inaction


Injured workers caught a break today when the Florida Legislature failed to pass a bill that could have made it harder for them to find attorneys to take their case even when they've been wrongly denied their injury claim.

The Florida House and Senate never could work out a compromise to cap attorney fees for workers who sue companies for wrongly denying their claims.

The House wanted to cap attorney fees at $150 an hour, far less than what trial attorneys get in other types of cases. The Senate initially pitched a $250 an hour rate. Sen. Rob Bradley, a Republican from Clay County, offered a plan to split the difference to $200 an hour.

But the Senate this morning surprisingly rejected Bradley’s compromise offer and instead voted out a proposal to keep the rate at $250 an hour - a rate the House has opposed. The House refused to accept that change, as expected, an proposed going to $180 an hour, the highest it was willing to go. The result was that nothing passed as the Legislature's regular session ended Friday. Legislators have agreed to meet again on Monday to finish voting on a state budget, but will not take up any other legislation.

The defeat of the legislation is a blow to the business community that has already been hit with a 14 percent increase in workers compensation rates and is bracing for what many fear will be another 20 percent next year. The rates are climbing because of a Florida Supreme Court case last year that ruled a previous attorney fee cap the Florida Legislature had imposed was unconstitutional. Under the old system, some attorney in smaller cases were getting paid was amounted to less than $2 an hour for their work.

State Rep. Sean Shaw, a Democrat from Tampa and an attorney, said the old system worked as a disincentive for attorneys to take workers compensation cases, even for workers who looked like they would win. With no caps, judges now will determine a “reasonable”  rate for winning attorneys to be compensated.

Shaw said for 20 years, the state has only made it harder for injured workers to fight wrongly denied claims. Statistics show that even though Florida has added nearly 2 million more workers since 2004, the number of workers compensation legal claims have been on the decline. And the insurance rates charged to businesses have dropped 60 percent.