News Service of Florida: Bill Would Restore Attorneys Fee Caps in Workers’ Comp; Citizens Doing Better, Auditors Say

Jan 28, 2009

News Service of Florida--January 28, 2009

News Service of Florida:  Bill Would Restore Attorneys Fee Caps in Workers’ Comp

A measure in the Legislature would restore a fee schedule for lawyers in workers compensation cases and go even farther by eliminating the ability of attorneys to collect fees from insurance carriers in some cases. The measure (HB 311), sponsored by Rep. Priscilla Taylor, D-West Palm Beach, is an apparent response to last year’s Supreme Court ruling in Murray v. Mariner Health, which essentially eliminated a legislatively imposed cap on lawyers fee in workers comp cases. Big business howled after the ruling, saying it will eliminate gains made over the last several years in lowering workers comp rates. Taylor’s bill not only restores mandatory percentages for determining claimants’ attorneys fees, but prevents injured workers’ lawyers from being able to collect any fees from insurance companies in some circumstances – leaving it up to a worker making a claim to pay their attorney. The measure also would prevent attorneys and injured workers from entering a contract for a fee outside the legislatively-mandated fee. Trial attorneys will fight the legislation. “We don’t believe this bill’s appropriate,” said Paul Anderson, a Tallahassee attorney who represents injured workers. Anderson acknowledged that the Murray decision will likely force insurance rates up a bit. He noted though that workers comp rates have gone down about 60 percent since 2003, as claims and payouts have gone down. Taylor, who owns an insurance agency, didn’t return calls for comment.

News Service of Florida:  Citizens Doing Better, Auditors Say

Florida’s independent auditor has concluded that Citizens Property Insurance Corp. – the state-created property insurer – has cleaned up many of the problems that led to a scathing audit three years ago. But the report released this week by the state Auditor General says that it still found problems at Citizens, including that it ranks second highest among Florida insurers in the percentage of policyholders who had filed complaints. Auditors did a survey of policyholders that showed 82 percent were satisfied with Citizens, but that number dipped to 62 percent when people were asked about how well the insurer handles claims. The audit – which covered operations from March 2006 to February 2008 – also called on the company to beef up the security of its internal computer systems and to do a better job at minimizing claim payments. For example, Citizens wound up paying more than $13,000 to replace ceramic tile in a home even though records showed that only one tile had been damaged by a dropped pot. Auditors also said that a check of records showed that adjusters hired to help mediate claim disputes may not be free from potential conflict of interests. Citizens officials, responding to the audit, said they had fixed, or planned to fix nearly all the problems outlined in the report. And even auditors noted that the number of complaints against Citizens had dipped from 2007 to 2008 and that Citizens had undertaken steps to improve its customer service. Citizens was roundly criticized back in a 2006 audit for the way it handled billions in claims during the 2004 and 2005 hurricane season. “We were pleased to find your report recognized the steps Citizens has taken to improve customer service,” Scott Wallace, president and CEO of Citizens, wrote to state auditors. “This operational audit…provides an opportunity for improvement and we will use the report findings to continue to enhance our infrastructure, processes and procedures.”