Florida Legislature to pass Unconstitutional law

Representing Orlando, Tampa, Miami and Nearby Areas of Florida

The Florida House will vote this week and will likely pass an amendment to the Florida Workers’ Compensation Act knowing that that amendment is unconstitutional. The Florida Senate will take up an identical workers compensation bill in committee this week and will be told by a constitutional law scholar that it is unconstitutional. But that committee, the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee, will vote in favor of that bill, and later in the week the full Senate is likely to pass it too. The amendment repeals the word “reasonable” from that portion of the Florida workers compensation statute that describes what kind of attorney fee can be awarded to an injured workers’ attorney in situations where the attorney wins the case and proves the insurance company wrongfully denied benefits to the injured worker that the injured worker was legally entitled to. The law that will remain after the word “reasonable” is removed from the statute will allow for the injured workers attorney fee to be either unreasonably low, as was the case in the Emma Murray case decided by a 5-0 vote of the Florida Supreme Court last October; or unreasonably high in situations where very little attorney time is spent but the recovery is very large. Obviously there will be many more unusually low fees than high fees and experienced workers compensation attorneys will shy away from representing injured workers (like they have done for the past 5 years) because one could spend 80 hours and get paid $8.11 per hour (as was the case in Emma Murray).
The Senate and the House know that they are just postponing another rejection of the law by the Court, but it will take 3 to 5 years for a case to wind its way to the Supreme Court, during which time countless injured workers will be taken advantage of by a workers’ compensation law that is not only unfair to begin with, but unenforceable without the assistance of counsel. It is significant to note that the amount of attorneys fees an Insurance company is allowed to pay their own attorneys in not restricted by the law or by the court system.
It matters not to Republican Representatives or Senators that what they are doing is wrong. They do what leadership tells them to do, like Sheep, they follow the shepherd. Big Business in Florida wants another 3-5 years of not having to provide needed benefits to injured workers knowing the claimants can’t get lawyers to represent them under an ‘unreasonable’ fee statute. No other form of insurance claim has this sort of problem. All other claims by third party beneficiaries have to be handled in good faith under the requirements of the Florida Insurance Code.If not, the carrier can be sued and ‘reasonable’ attorney fees recovered. Workers’ Compensation claims are the only insurance claims in Florida for which an exemption from good faith claims handling is granted to the carriers.
If the proposed repeal of the word “reasonable” is signed into law by Governor Crist, as expected, workers compensation carriers and self insured employers in Florida will have no incentive to pay legitimate claims. Injured workers will be denied the opportunity to hire counsel in all but the most serious and severe injury cases. Can it ever be constitutional to repeal the word “reasonable” from a statute? No.