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Is workers compensation legislation dead? Key state senator says no

@JeremySWallace

There’s only two days left in the annual Legislative session, but the lead sponsor of a bill to address higher workers compensation insurance rates being charged to businesses says he still sees hope.

Sen. Rob Bradley, a Republican from northeast Florida, said there are divisions with the Florida House still over how to limit attorneys fees and address medical providers that treat workers compensation injuries, but they are not so big that they cannot be overcome by the end of Friday.

“I think we’re going to get there,”  Bradley told reporters late Wednesday.

Worker compensation insurance companies and business groups have been pressing the Legislature to pass new caps on attorney fees for lawyers hired by workers who sue companies after they were wrongly denied injury claims. The Florida Supreme Court last year ruled that the Legislature’s previous caps were unconstitutional. In some smaller cases where judges ruled in favor of injured workers, the winning attorneys were awarded what amounts to less than $2 an hour for their work. Workers groups said that acts as a disincentive for attorneys to take complicated workers compensation claims.

But in striking down the cap, an insurance groups that sets rates for workers compensation insurance announced dramatic 14 percent increases, sending business groups into a panic. Since 2004, workers compensation rates in Florida have plummeted more than 60 percent, but the possibility of them rising again have resulted in big pressure on the Legislature to act.

For most of the last two months, the House and Senate have had very different views on what to do. The Senate has proposed allowing attorneys representing winning workers’ claims cases to collect up to $250 an hour from insurance companies that fight the claims. The House has tried to cap that at $150.

The House and Senate also face a big gap on how to handle medical providers. The House wants to cut reimbursements to medical providers who treat injured workers, something the Senate has opposed.

“I’m confident that we can bridge that gap,” Bradley said of both the reimbursement issue and the attorney fees. "We are still in discussions with the House."

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