Section reviews state’s workers’ comp studies Section reviews state’s workers’ comp studies October 1, 2002 Regular News Recent legislative studies overstated both the number of Florida workers’ compensation cases that have attorney involvement and the costs of those cases to the compensation system, according to a study done for the Bar’s Workers’ Compensation Section.That review also showed that the costs of the typical workers’ comp claim and the amount paid in attorneys’ fees have plummeted in the past decade.The study was prepared by Rafael Gonzalez, immediate past section chair, and presented at the August 21 meeting of the Governor’s Commission on Workers’ Compensation Reform. Gonzalez is monitoring the commission and legislative activities for the section.“It is not attorney involvement, attorneys’ fees, or benefits to injured workers which are the cause of Florida’s continuing rise in workers’ compensation premiums,” Gonzalez said of his findings. “The commission should further study some of the other stakeholders in the workers’ compensation system in the state of Florida, as well as their interests for an explanation of the continuing high costs of workers’ compensation insurance coverage for employers in the state of Florida.”The legislative studies, Gonzalez said in his report to the commission, were done by the Workers’ Compensation Research Institute (WCRI) and the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI). While containing valuable information, they were based on only 5 percent of the cases and compared Florida statistics with those from eight other states.Gonzalez took his data from all cases filed with the Division of Workers’ Compensation and statistics from 40 states. Thus, while the NCCI and WCRI studies showed that Florida had a higher number of cases where injured workers got attorneys and those cases resulted in higher payouts that other states, Gonzalez’ data showed different results.Statewide data showed only 14.2 percent of injured workers in Florida wound up getting attorneys, slightly below the national average. The rates for other states included 46 percent in Oklahoma, 30 percent in New Jersey, 25 percent in Maryland, 21 percent in Rhode Island, 20 percent in South Carolina, and 18 percent in Georgia.Similarly, the size of settlements has been declining, from an average of $34,804 in 1990 to $10,093 by 1999 — including all costs and attorneys’ fees, Gonzalez found.He noted that the 1993 changes to the state’s workers’ compensation law (F.S. Ch. 440) had the effect of reducing both payments to injured workers and fees to attorneys. His findings include:• The average indemnity benefit dropped from $7,687 in 1990 to $2,240 in 1999.• The typical medical benefit declined from $9,879 in 1990 to $5,929 in 1998.• In 1990, the average attorneys’ fee was $7,642 for a workers’ comp case; by 1998, it was $2,287 or more than a 75 percent decline.“Clearly, as had been the intent of the 1993 revisions to Florida workers’ compensation system, indemnity, medical, settlements, and attorneys’ fees have significantly decreased,” Gonzalez said.Aside from the figures, the report to the commission gave a synopsis of workers’ comp law in Florida, and summarized recent legislative activity. The commission, appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush after the legislative session earlier this year, is charged with finding out why Florida has some of the highest premiums in the country and at the same time some of the lowest benefits.Copies of the report are available from Gonzalez at Barrs, Williamson, Stolberg, Townsend & Gonzalez, 2503 West Swann Avenue, Tampa 33609-4017.