The Steady Erosion of Florida Workers’ Compensation Rights & Benefits

worker2.jpgFor the past twenty years I have witnessed the steady and sometimes precipitous decline of rights and benefits available to injured workers under Florida’s workers’ compensation system (Chapter 440 Florida Statutes). The losses have come through legislative, rather than court, action, mostly by the hand of Republican legislators. Not surprisingly, the most damaging losses occurred during Jeb Bush’s eight-year (1999-2007) mean-spirited reign as Florida’s Governor.

MEDICAL
No longer may injured workers select their own treating doctors. Sadly, the Florida Legislature has turned this most important decision over to the workers’ compensation insurance companies. (See Florida Statute 440.13.) The doctors they select understand who is feeding them and why. Fearing that they will lose business if they side with injured workers, these doctors too often put the insurance companies’ best interests before those of their patients.

Prior to the changes, patterned after laws instituted in Texas by George Bush, who was the Governor of that state, Florida’s injured workers were allowed to select the initial treating doctor and a second treater if desired, and have an independent medical evaluation performed at the carrier’s expense. No longer. The right to select treating doctors has been eliminated and the IME, which can cost in excess of $1,000, must now be paid out-of-pocket by injured workers, who often have barely enough money to buy food.

LOST WAGES
Like medical benefits, lost wages have taken a big hit from Jeb Bush and Republican legislators. Including for the problems associated with partial doctors, as described above, it has become more difficult to qualify for temporary lost wage benefits (TPD and TTD) and nearly impossible to qualify for permanent lost wage benefits (PTD). Additionally, a limit of 104 weeks, without regard to an injured workers actual medical statuts, has been placed on the right to receive temporary benefits. (F.S. 440.15 addresses the various types of lost wage benefits.)

LEGAL REPRESENTATION
There was a time when insurance companies were required to pay reasonable fees to injured workers’ attorneys for wrongfully denying benefits. This gave injured workers the opporunity to fight for their rights on equal footing with insurance companies. Equality, however, was anathema for Jeb Bush and Republican legislators. The solution was to prohibit the payment of reasonable fees to claimants’ attorneys, which was accomplished in 2002 and again in 2009. See Florida Statute 440.34; Jennifer Kauffman v. Community Inclusions, Inc./Guarantee Insurance Company Emma Murray v. Mariner Health and ACE USA, 994 So. 2d 1051 (Fla. 2008).

Thus severely hamstrung by this unconscionable limitation on attorney’s fees – consider for a moment that carriers are not limited in how much they can pay their attorneys to defend a case (read the Jennifer Kauffman trial court order to get a full understanding of the bizarreness of the situation) – claimants’ attorneys struggle mightily to carry on the fight for their clients’ rights.

If these crazy limitations on workers’ rights were not true, most decent people would scoff at the notion that they could become law. Unfortunately, this has become the essence of the Republican way: The more unfair, the more outrageous, the more ridiculous, the better.

Our law firm will continue to fight for the rights of We the People.

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Contact us toll-free at 866-785-GALE or by email to learn your rights.

Jeffrey P. Gale, P.A. is a South Florida based law firm committed to the judicial system and to representing and obtaining justice for individuals – the poor, the injured, the forgotten, the voiceless, the defenseless and the damned, and to protecting the rights of such people from corporate and government oppression. We do not represent government, corporations or large business interests.