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Jacksonville Business Leaders Call For Workers' Comp Special Session

Ryan Benk

Jacksonville business leaders aired concerns at a town hall meeting with lawmakers Wednesday about a proposed workers' compensation insurance hike.

Two recent Florida Supreme Court Cases set the hike in motion — and business groups are calling on the Legislature to convene a special session to make some tweaks before the increase can take effect.

The first case in late April (Castellanos V. Next Door Company) limited how much attorneys could charge for helping injured employees through the worker’s comp process, allowing injured workers greater access to legal representation. 

The second case in June (Westphal V. City of St. Petersburg) undid the hard cap — 104 weeks — for how long employers had to pay medical expenses. Medical expenses can now be paid for 260 weeks.

As a result, business owners face a nearly 20-percent workers’ comp rate hike.

Sen. Audrey Gibson (D-Jacksonville) heard from several business owners at the meeting in downtown Jacksonville. She said lawmakers will have to strike a delicate balance between their concerns and complying with recent court rulings that undid business-friendly reforms the Legislature passed in 2003. Those reforms capped how much injured employees could claim, how much lawyers could charge for representing them and made it the sole way for injured employees to recoup costs.

“We’re going to have to look at, of course, what we implemented in 2003 and see how we can keep portions of what we put into place,” she said.

Business leaders are hoping to move Governor Rick Scott to call lawmakers back to Tallahassee to find a solution before the rate is expected to rise in October. But Gibson said it’ll probably be on the back burner until after the election.

“If there’s no hint of compromise among the parties, there is no point of having a special session because there’s not going to be any resolution,” she said.

Gibson would like to see a special workers’ comp committee set up during the regular legislative session. Business groups estimate the proposed rate increase will cost them more than $700 million collectively.  

Florida insurance regulators are taking public comment on the proposed rate hike.  

Ryan Benk is a former WJCT News reporter who joined the station in 2015 after working as a news researcher and reporter for NPR affiliate WFSU in Tallahassee.