Tallahassee, FL (WorkersCompensatiuon.com) - Leon County Florida Circuit Judge Karen Gievers Wednesday issued an order halting a 14.5% workers' compensation premium rate hike scheduled to go into effect December 1st. The court determined that NCCI, the violated Florida's Sunshine Law in the process used in determining the rate increase.
NCCI has said it will appeal the ruling.
The approved increase, is the result of Florida Supreme Court rulings earlier this year that found parts of the state's workers' compensation insurance laws unconstitutional. Two court decisions, commonly known as Westphal and Castellanos, eliminated restrictions on TTD benefits and claimant attorney fees. Judge Gievers determined in her 73 page order that NCCI “did not comply with legal requirements about holding public meetings during its deliberations on the hike”. She also determined that they held improper closed-door meetings with the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation.
Her decision states,"The clear and convincing evidence demonstrated that NCCI and the OIR (Office of Insurance Regulation) held a series of secret meetings in the shade … and not in the Sunshine as required, meetings at which decision maker NCCI (through its staff) discussed and decided the substance of the rate increases NCCI proposed. Far from being meetings in the Sunshine required by law, the meetings between the OIR staff and NCCI staff were designed to, and had the effect of shutting the public out of meaningful participation in the rate making process."
In a statement issued by NCCI, they said they were "very disappointed" in the ruling and confirmed their intent to appeal it, saying "We continue to believe that NCCI and the Florida OIR have fully complied with the law. NCCI plans to appeal the trial court's decision."
The case was brought by James F. Fee Jr., a Miami attorney who represents injured workers.
Observers in the state note that this will further confuse an already chaotic situation. The Florida rate increase was designed to cover anticipated increases in costs related to litigation and benefit expenses. It did not address the open liability that now exists for employers and carriers for the years that the reforms were in place. Some estimates of that unfunded liability exceed $2 Billion dollars.