Workers’ compensation legislation could see changes in Florida if one of two proposed bills becomes law. Despite the fact that workers’ compensation rates have declined steadily in both 2018 and 2019, employers are worried about the possibility of increasing rates in coming months.
Different Versions of the Bill in the House and Senate
There are two versions of the workers’ compensation bill. The House version of the bill, House Bill 1399, has seen some movement in recent weeks. The Senate version, Senate Bill 1636, seems to have lost momentum and its future is unclear.
One key issue addressed by both bills is capping attorneys’ fees in workers’ compensation cases. The Senate bill takes a much stronger stance than the House bill. SB 1636 would cap an attorney’s overall payment to $1,500 at a max rate of $150 per hour. This could make it difficult for employees with complicated workers’ compensation cases to get the legal counsel they need.
HB 1399 does not cap attorneys’ fees or total payment. The sponsor for the bill, Rep. Byrd, believes it’s important to let the free market handle attorney fees. However, the bill does have a clause that allows a judge to dismiss a claimant’s petition if they or their attorney does not make a good faith effort to resolve the situation before taking it to court.
How Each Bill Would Change the Cap on Benefits
Perhaps one of the most important parts of HB 1399 and SB 1636 is how they address a cap on temporary total disability benefits. HB 1399 would increase the current cap from 104 weeks to 260 weeks, at which point the employee would receive their disability rating. There is a provision that would allow an injured employee to receive an additional 26 weeks of benefits if they do not reach maximum medical improvement (MMI) by the end of the 260-week period. Like HB 1399, SB 1636 would let claimants receive up to 260 weeks of benefits. There is no option to receive an additional 26 weeks of benefits.
What This Means for Employers
If HB 1399 passes, employers could actually see lower workers’ compensation rates. The bill would tie treatment reimbursement to a percentage of Medicare rates. Rep. Byrd claims that this could lower workers’ compensation insurance rates by approximately 5%.
How This Affects Employees
The passing of HB 1399 would significantly benefit employees who receive temporary total disability. The increase from 104 weeks to 260 weeks would give patients more time to reach MMI before losing benefits. Furthermore, not placing a cap on attorney fees would ensure that that injured workers struggling to get the compensation they deserve have options for legal representation. This bill goes through the House Government Operations & Technology Appropriations Subcommittee and Commerce Committee next.
SB 1636 has been pulled by its sponsor but has been rescheduled to go before the Senate Banking & Insurance Committee.
Don’t Let Your Employer Keep You From Seeking Workers’ Compensation
Employers use a number of underhanded tricks to prevent employees from filing a workers’ compensation claim. If you’re not sure what your next step is, call Sternberg | Forsythe, P.A. at 561-687-5660 to schedule a consultation at our West Palm Beach office.