Recent decisions by the Florida Supreme Court in Castellanos and Westphal have declared the workers’ compensation system unconstitutional, leaving Florida’s employers and employees vulnerable to a system that is on the verge of finding itself right where it was in 2003 with some of the highest workers’ compensation rates in the nation.
In fact, since the 2003 workers’ compensation reforms were enacted, both Florida employees and employers alike have experienced drastic improvements in the system that have made the Sunshine State’s system a model that most other states had aimed to replicate.
Why Workers’ Compensation Worked in Florida BEFORE the Recent Supreme Court Rulings
Worked for Employees:
- Workplaces are safer – on-the-job injuries declined about 30 percent in Florida since 2003.
- Injured workers get medical treatment more easily without litigation.
- More than 80 percent of all work injuries are resolved without litigation even though attorneys are still involved in over 40 percent of cases – no decline since 2003.
- Injured workers return to work quicker and receive higher benefits if they are unable to earn their pre-injury wage.
- More employees have coverage because fraudulent employers are investigated, fined and prosecuted for trying to evade the law requiring all employers to purchase workers’ compensation insurance.
- Medical bills are timely paid 99 percent of the time due to increased penalties and reporting requirements imposed by the state.
Worked for Employers:
- Since 2003, when our rates were the highest in the nation, employers have realized an average 59.1 percent rate reduction. Even with four years of rate increases (2011-2014), Florida was ranked 24th lowest countrywide in 2016.
- Over 95 percent of all employers are able to secure coverage in the private market, signaling a healthy system that is sustainable in the self-executing manner the Florida Legislature intended when it passed this law in 2003.
What About the Lawyers:
- Statutory benefit levels provided for injured workers have been legally challenged in only one case before the Florida Supreme Court – Westphal v. City of St. Petersburg. While the court ruled the 104-week cap on temporary total disability benefits unconstitutional, the reality is that most injured workers return to work in a small fraction of that time. The facts of Westphal are a rarity, but the unconstitutional ruling will incentivize litigation and unnecessarily delay settlements.
- Attorney fee issues are the only significant subject of the current law that has been repeatedly challenged and appealed in the courts since the passage.
- The Castellanos court sanctioned an excessive fee of $38,000 for securing an $800 benefit. Injured workers will NOT receive greater benefits under this ruling – but the lawyers will see bigger paydays.