Tony Francis, of the Orlando-based Francis Law Firm, is opposed to the Florida House Bill primarily because its repeal or veto is crucial to the rights of workers.
House Bill 903 is like the clock reversing direction into a past when workers rights were blithely ignored. Its passage on May 1, 2009, negates a previous Florida Supreme Court ruling and restores a cap on attorney’s fees in workers’ compensation cases. Headed for the desk of Florida Governor Charlie Crist after being passed by the Senate by a 22-16 vote, it appears that being paid “reasonably” for representing injured workers is a vestige of the past.
The October 2008 decision by the state’s highest court involved a nurse who was injured lifting a patient at a nursing home. Her lawyer helped her win $3,344 in lost wages and medical expenses after her initial claim was denied. The law, ironically enough, limited the attorney’s fee to about $8 an hour while the insurance company’s lawyers were paid about $150 an hour. Tony Francis of the Orlando-based Francis Law Firm refuses to remain silent. “Last fall’s Supreme Court decision was unfair. This bill would retrograde us back to a completely skewed playing field. What lawyer could afford to represent injured workers if HB903 becomes law? All we’re asking for is a fair shake – not just for us, but for workers who get hurt. Why should insurance companies get to run the table?”
Francis has more to say about the controversial HB903. “This is what’s called a ‘bad bill,’ and who does it hurt most? Who will fight insurers who refuse to pay doctor bills for workers hurt on the job?” Florida Justice Association spokeswoman Jacqui Sisto agrees, “This version of the bill is greatly unfair to Florida’s injured workers and first responders.” She added that it may even face a constitutional challenge. Francis adds fuel to this argument. “Deletion of the word ‘reasonable’ will mean continued litigation over who gets to access the courts to obtain wrongfully denied benefits for injured workers and first responders,” he says. But one of the eventualities that Francis perceives is increased costs passed on to taxpayers. “What’s going to happen when injured workers, after being denied deserved benefits and recovered losses, are forced to seek help from social programs such as Medicaid to pay their bills, especially if they’re unable to return to work for an extended period? It will mean that taxpayers will eventually be footing their bills – bills that might well have been paid by insurance carriers if the workers had been able to get decent legal representation in the first place.”