Florida employers should expect a 14.5 percent increase in their workers’ compensation insurance premiums based on a new appellate court decision.
The increase should become effective soon, unless another appeal is filed with the state Supreme Court.
Florida’s First District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee approved the increase on May 9 after, by coincidence, the state Legislature adjourned without taking any action on the issue.
The appeal court issued its ruling in two consolidated appeals, National Council on Compensation Insurance v. James F. Fee, Jr. It reversed a decision by Leon County Circuit Judge Karen A. Gievers that had invalidated the 14.5 percent increase.
The 14.5 percent rate increase was approved by the Office of Insurance Regulation (OIR) and State Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier in October last year. The approved increase was lower than the 19.6 percent hike originally requested by the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI).
OIR regulates all insurance activities in Florida, including all activities relating to workers’ compensation insurance. Insurance companies writing workers’ compensation insurance policies in Florida must seek approval from OIR when setting or changing insurance rates by filing a rate proposal. OIR reviews filings seeking a rate change to determine if the proposed rate, under the Florida Statutes, is “excessive, inadequate, or unfairly discriminatory . . . in accordance with generally accepted and reasonable actuarial techniques.” NCCI compiles data regarding the loss, expense, and claims experience of workers’ compensation insurance carriers.
NCCI had announced in May last year that, as a consequence of the Florida Supreme Court’s decision in Castellanos v. Next Door Company, issued on April 28, 2016, premiums would have to be increased significantly. That decision had declared unconstitutional a statutory cap on claimants’ attorneys’ fees in workers’ compensation cases. Of the 14.5 percent rate increase, 10.1 percent was attributed specifically to the Castellanos decision.
The new appeal decision resulted from a lawsuit filed by James F. Fee, Jr., a Miami attorney whose law firm purchases workers’ compensation insurance, who claimed that NCII had engaged in violations of the state’s Sunshine Law in the rate increase process. Judge Gievers had agreed with him, but the appeal court concluded that no statutory violations had been committed.
“The trial court erred in declaring OIR’s final order void and in concluding that NCCI and OIR violated the Sunshine Law,” the appeal court concluded in 19-page opinion written by Judge Lori S. Rowe on behalf of a three-judge panel.
Reacting to the First District’s ruling, the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America praised the decision, saying that the court had recognized “the importance of organizations like NCCI who can independently review Florida’s workers’ compensation system and offer recommendations.”
John K. Shubin, a Miami attorney who represented Fee in the appeal, said that he and his client were “obviously disappointed by the court’s decision,” and would look into “whether there is merit in pursuing further the important issues addressed by the underlying lawsuit.” He did not say whether further review would be sought from the full District Court of Appeal or from the Florida Supreme Court.