Injured state workers cost Florida $100 M a year

Mar 13, 2009

Tampa Tribune--March 12, 2009

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida is spending $100 million a year to pay claims from thousands of injured state workers, and the amount go could go higher.

Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink said Thursday the state isn’t doing enough to prevent lawsuits and claims from workers hurt on the job. She asked state lawmakers to give her extra money during a tight budget year to find ways to prevent claims and help treat injured employees more quickly.

“The bottom line is I believe we can reduce that amount by tens of millions dollars,” Sink told a House panel.

Sink’s office compiled a report that showed the state paid 14,000 worker’s compensation claims worth $102.7 million between June 2007 and July 2008. The state forked over an additional $48 million in the second half of 2008, with a large portion of it going to pay for injured workers with the Department of Corrections and the Department of Children and Families.

Sink oversees the state division responsible for handling claims and lawsuits against the state. R.J. Castellanos, director of the Division of Risk Management, said the state has $950 million worth of claims pending against it that range from employment discrimination to auto accidents to claims of abuse from foster parents. A published report from September 2007 showed the state spent $196.2 million over a decade to quietly settle many of these same kind of lawsuits.

Sink said the problem right now is state agencies have no reason to try to cut down the number of claims filed against them. Sink hired a subsidiary of Blue Cross and Blue Shield in January to help with injured workers. But she wants to spend $500,000 more to help prevent future claims.

Rep. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, chairman of the House budget panel that oversees Sink’s office, praised the recommendation and said the state could hand out cash bonuses to state workers who reduce lawsuits and claims against the state.

“There’s nothing wrong with giving people cash to thank them,” Hays said.