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Governor's workers' comp panel to meet this month.

As it moves to wrap up its business and make recommendations later this month, a special gubernatorial commission on workers' compensation heard calls for drastic changes in the compensation system and the way cases are heard.

At meetings in October, November, and December, the Governor's Commission on Workers' Compensation Reform heard from representatives of a insurance coalition seeking reform, and from a commission member who would give doctors more authority to determine injury cause and treatment.

The commission was scheduled to meet again in early January before holding a final meeting in Tallahassee on January 21. according to Rafael Gonzalez, past chair of the Bar's Workers' Compensation Section who is monitoring the commission's activities.

At the October meeting, representatives of the insurance coalition outlined their goals, Gonzalez said. Tom Koval, vice president of FCCI Insurance Group, said that included eliminating hourly attorneys' fees for handling claims and maintaining the current statutory contingency fee schedule. Eliminating the hourly fees would create an incentive for plaintiff's attorneys to settle rather than litigate claims, he said.

The coalition also favors creating a special panel to hear appeals from judges of compensation claims, Koval said. Appeals from that appellate panel would go to the district court of appeal with venue jurisdiction in the case. Currently appeals from judges of compensation claims go directly to the First District Court of Appeal.

Mary Ann Stiles, another member of the coalition and general counsel for Associated Industries of Florida, said a top goal is to reduce the number of permanent and total disability claims while increasing impairment benefits. That would be accomplished, she said, by striking the provision that grants permanent total disability based on the disability criteria used by the federal Social Security disability program.

The November and December meetings, Gonzalez said, focused on a proposal by commission member Jerry Fogel, who is also a consultant to the Department of Insurance. Representatives of the department also spoke, endorsing Fogel's plan.

He proposed a "Fair Care" system, saying more than minor modification is needed to the present program and laws. Fogel said Fair Care, after determining an accident was work-related, would focus on getting prompt care and returning the employee to work. Compensation would be based on actual functional loss rather that impairment ratings, and doctors would have more control over treatment.

Under the proposal, Fogel said a uniform statewide treatment criteria would be used, and a three-member doctor panel would review any appeals from the treating doctor's recommendations.

Rulings from that panel could be appealed to judges of compensation claims, although the panel decision would carry the presumption of being right. Judges' decisions could be appealed to a special workers' comp appeals panel, similar to the coalition plan, and then to the DCA with venue jurisdiction.

Representatives of DOI explained that the medical panel would handle medical issues while a separate administrative panel would review claims involving average weekly wages, penalties, interests, payment of medical bills, and the like.
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Publication:Florida Bar News
Date:Jan 1, 2003
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