To virtually no one's surprise, the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation vowed Tuesday to appeal a circuit judge's ruling that would block a 14.5 percent increase in workers' compensation insurance rates.
The office filed a notice of appeal. That will allow the rate increase to start taking effect Thursday as originally planned.
Though Leon County Circuit Judge Karen Gievers issued an order to block the increase, appeals by state agencies typically lead to legal stays of such orders, the News Service of Florida reported. "The effect would be that the rate increase would move forward while the appeal is pending," wrote NSF.
“We urged Florida businesses not to be fooled by this classic trial lawyer delay tactic," said Edie Ousley, vice president of public affairs for the Florida Chamber of Commerce. "Putting job creators and injured workers first is vital to keeping Florida’s workers’ compensation system working, and therefore it’s incumbent on the Florida Legislature to reform the system and create stability and predictability in so that job creators aren’t forced to choose between hiring another employee or paying higher workers’ comp rates.”
A disgruntled Bill Herrle, NFIB/Florida executive director, said, “We didn’t for a second believe the trial lawyers were pursuing this case to protect small business owners from a rate hike; and today we can see that it didn’t."
“What’s clear is the trial lawyers, who are the opponents of the workers’ comp attorney fee cap, brought this case in an attempt to conceal the fees they are charging," Herrle said. "They wish to discredit the insurance commissioner’s findings that attorneys’ fees, which will grow by hundreds of millions next year alone, are driving increased workers’ comp costs."
Gievers issued a 73-page ruling Wednesday that said the state's Sunshine Law had been violated during deliberations about the rate hike. Gievers ruled, in part, that the National Council on Compensation Insurance -- an organization that files rate proposals for the insurance industry -- did not comply with legal requirements about holding public meetings during its deliberations on the hike.
She also wrote NCCI held closed-door meetings with staff members of the Office of Insurance Regulation. The ruling came only eight days before the effective date of the rate hike, which had been approved in October by regulators. The increase, which has been closely watched by business and legal groups, stems largely from two Florida Supreme Court rulings this year that found parts of the workers' compensation system unconstitutional. As NSF reported, NCCI also said last week that it would appeal Gievers' ruling.
Mark Touby, president of Florida Workers' Advocates, also issued a statement Tuesday. “Today, Florida’s businesses were delivered a heavy, dirty lump of coal for the holidays while the giant insurance industry found a stocking stuffed with a whopping spike in workers’ compensation insurance premiums," he said.
"Though a circuit court judge emphatically ruled last week that insurance special interests actively broke Florida law, they are being rewarded now by getting to line their pockets with unwarranted profits.”
Touby continued, “Florida businesses should rightfully point a finger of blame to this holiday season’s ‘Grinch,’ the insurance industry, which is now moving forward with its secretly-hatched plan to cost businesses more money."
Unfortunately, some of the groups that purport to represent small businesses have blinders on to the ridiculous excess profits insurance companies have enjoyed – or perhaps they just can’t see because the transparency in rate-making is non-existent. Less than a week after Leon County Circuit Judge Karen Gievers rejected a workers’ compensation rate increase because it violated Florida’s cherished Sunshine Law, the state’s Office of Insurance Regulation (OIR) announced it will appeal that decision, temporarily allowing the increase to take effect.”
“The workers’ comp system is supposed to benefit two groups – injured workers and the businesses that employ them. Judge Gievers’ decision protected both their interests, but an appeal only serves the interests of the insurance companies who orchestrated the rate increase in the first place. Don’t blame the lawyers and don’t blame the courts. Take off the blinders and see that the fox is guarding the hen house.”
“We are confident that the judge’s thoughtful, well-reasoned ruling will be upheld on appeal. But in the meantime, Florida businesses will be forced to pay unnecessarily high premiums, while workers’ comp insurance companies enjoy this early – and undeserved – mammoth present.”
Said Herrle, "Trial lawyers: Please don’t help us anymore. We know what your real interests are, and they are in polar opposition to small business owners.”
Reach Nancy Smith at email@example.com or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmth