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The Florida Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday moved workers’ compensation reform closer to consideration by the full Senate. The bill, SB 1582 by Sen. Rob Bradley, addresses areas of the law that the Florida Supreme Court ruled as unconstitutional.

FJA Past-President Paul Anderson deep in thought after the Workers’ Compensation bill passed the Senate Appropriations Committee Thursday.

To address the Westphal decision, Sen. Bradley said the bill expands the amount of time an injured worker can receive disability benefits from 104 weeks to 260 weeks.

The bill also addresses the issue of reasonable attorneys’ fees that grew out of the Castellanos decision. That decision ruled the statutory scheme to determine fees based on percentage of recovery to be unconstitutional because it could lead to absurdly low fees with no recourse to receive an increase.

“The facts of the Castellanos case were such that the attorney in that case was paid the equivalent of $1.50 an hour, based on the statutory formula,” explained Sen. Bradley. “We keep that system in place where you have a percentage of the recovery, but if that percentage does not produce what would be deemed to be a reasonable attorneys’ fee, there’s a safety valve.”

Sen. Bradley explained that under his bill, in the case of a low fee, a Judge of Compensation Claims could review factors in the case and determine what a reasonable hourly fee would be. The bill caps the amount at $250 an hour.

“We appreciate the thoughtful consideration the Legislature is giving to this important issue, which affects the lives of Florida employers and workers alike. By their vote, members of the Senate Appropriations Committee have taken a significant step to position workers’ compensation reform for further discussion this session,” said Richard Chait, chair of FJA’s Workers’ Compensation Section. “While we still believe that a restoration of benefits and some element of medical choice by the injured worker need to be considered, we remain hopeful that in the end, lawmakers will embrace the reforms necessary to help Florida’s employers and injured workers.”

Before approving the bill, Sen. Jack Latvala added an amendment that adds multiple myeloma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma as occupational hazards for Florida firefighters.

The legislation passed on a unanimous vote. It now moves to the Senate Rules Committee.

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