Florida Gov. Crist Signs Bill Capping Legal Fees for Workers’ Comp

May 29, 2009

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist has signed into law a bill that restores a cap on the fees attorneys may charge in workers’ compensation cases.

A previous law limiting the fees had been ruled unreasonable by the state’s highest court.

But in the most recent legislative session, the Florida Senate voted 22-16 and the House, 84-35, to pass the measure that was also backed by the state’s insurance regulator.

The bill (HB 903) effectively overturns a Florida Supreme Court ruling last fall that found the cap on lawyer fees was unreasonable.

The court ruling was hailed by trial lawyers who opposed the cap, arguing that limiting attorneys’ fees would limit the access injured workers have to counsel.

But the ruling was criticized by insurance firms and employers who argued that removing the cap would lead to higher workers compensation costs.

In February, Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty, recognizing the effect of the court decision, approved a 6.4 percent increase worth about $170 million in workers’ compensation rates effective April 1.

Mark Wilson, president and CEO, Florida Chamber of Commerce, said the bill was important to keeping workers’ compensation costs in check for small business owners, who, he said, “cannot afford higher costs simply to increase attorneys’ fees.”

“With unemployment in Florida at 9.6 percent, Florida’s employers need these resources to hire more employees and assist them in transitioning through these tough economic times,” Wilson said in a statement.

Rep. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, was the House bill’s sponsor; Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, sponsored it in the Senate.

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