Monday, April 20, 2009


For roughly 2 months each Spring the Florida House and the Florida Senate meet in Tallahassee to take care of the business of the State. They must pass a balanced budget. It doesn't actually have to be balanced. If they don't get it right, they come back again and again to raise more money or cut more state spending so that at the end of the fiscal year, it comes out right.
This year was especially hard, what with the economy tanking and the governor's pact with the Seminole Vegas Indians thrown out by Florida Supreme Court. One part of the budget fix is cutting the pay of employees of the Division of Workers' Compensation, the Judges of Compensaiton Claims and their Mediators. These specific cuts do nothing to help the budget crisis because the money used to pay the costs of running the workers' compensation system comes from a trust fund that contains only money from employers and compensation carriers. There is no tax money in the Administrative Trust Fund. Are our Judges who are grossly underpaid for the amount of work they do supposed to suffer pay cuts in sympathy with other employees of the state? If so, that is no reason to give insurance carriers and large self insured employers a break on their contributions to the fund. Apparently none of the legislators understand this issue, or don't care if they cut costs for insurance carriers and big employers.
Another area that the legislature is making a top priority (according to the House Speaker) is removing the word "reasonable" as it describes claimant attorney fees in the workers' compensation law. By removing the word "reasonable" the legislature hopes to firmly install a fee schedule for the claimant's lawyers that was overturned by the Florida Supreme Court in 2008. By removing the word "reasonable" the law will require a fee be allowed for an injured worker's lawyer that cannot be reviewed by any judge. Not a JCC, not a circuit court judge and not an appellate or Supreme Court justice. The legislaure will have taken over the regulation of lawyers in this one field of practice. The fees allowed can be as unreasonable as the one that caused the court to strike down the first attempt by the legislature to mandate a mathematical fee which is not in any way calcualted using traditional methods of attorney fee determinations. It ignores the hours spent in the work and the skill and experience of the practitioner. It also ignores the amount spent to defend the claim and the number of hours and fee charged by opposing counsel, who lost the case. Claimant's attorneys only get paid when they win. Defense attorney's get paid for every case they handle, win or lose.
Apparently the Republican dominated legislature, with few exceptions, doesn't care if it passes and sends to the Governor another law that will be thrown out by the courts. The time it takes to get a court decision (five years for the last one) will allow insurance companies to make excessive profits for a few more years and prevent injured workers from getting legal representaiton for all but the biggest cases with the most benefits. If a workers' compesation claimant's lawyer obtains $100,000.00 in benefits (the rare case) after litigating successfully against the insurance carrier with unlimited funds for defense, the fee will be set at $10,750.00.
The defense attorney can be paid whatever the carrier agrees to pay. In the 2007/2008 calendar year defense attorney's made almost 100 million dollars more than claimant's lawyers!
More after the session ends.