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Workers' comp rates could go up nearly 20 percent

Undated photo of Brad Westphal, a St. Petersburg firefighter who was injured on the job. A Supreme Court decision that deemed it unconsitutional to cut off Westphal's workers' compensation benefits after two years is being linked in part to an expected jump in workers' comp insurance rates. 


[Handout photo courtesy of Westphal family]
Undated photo of Brad Westphal, a St. Petersburg firefighter who was injured on the job. A Supreme Court decision that deemed it unconsitutional to cut off Westphal's workers' compensation benefits after two years is being linked in part to an expected jump in workers' comp insurance rates. [Handout photo courtesy of Westphal family]
Published Jul. 1, 2016

Employers in Florida could face a 19.6 percent jump in workers' compensation insurance rates this fall.

The amended rate request, filed Friday by the National Council on Compensation Insurance, or NCCI, comes in the wake of two recent Florida Supreme Court rulings that business groups have harshly criticized and attorneys representing employees have celebrated.

NCCI in May initially filed for a 17.1 percent increase, but it bumped it up to 19.6 percent after taking into account the impact of the latest high court decision involving benefits paid to an injured St. Petersburg firefighter.

In a statement Friday, the Florida Chamber of Commerce said the rising rates will hurt the state's business climate.

"Small businesses create two of every three jobs in Florida, and a workers' comp rate increase as significant as this could force these businesses to choose between paying higher workers' comp rates and hiring new employees," chamber president and CEO Mark Wilson said.

"A 19.6 percent rate increase will cause uncertainty among job creators and may even force a decline in Florida's job growth."

The chamber says that if the request clears regulators, Florida will have the highest premiums in the Southeast.

NCCI, an industry group authorized to make rate filings on behalf of workers' comp insurers, cited a pair of state Supreme Court rulings as the impetus for higher rates:

• An April 28 decision that removed a statutory cap on attorney fees for claimants, returning to hourly fees. Worker advocates said the cap was a major disincentive for attorneys to take on workers' comp cases, keeping injured employees from receiving fair payments. But business groups said the cap reined in high legal fees.

• A June 9 decision in the case of city of St. Petersburg firefighter Bradley Westphal. The high court struck down a law that allowed the city to cut off Westphal's temporary disability benefits after two years.

The bulk of the rate hike being sought, about 15 percent, is tied to the court's April decision.

The Florida Office of Insurance Regulation has scheduled a public hearing in Tallahassee at 9 a.m. Aug. 16 to air the pros and cons of the rate hike.

If approved by Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier, the higher rates would go into effect Oct. 1 for new and renewal policies. For policies already in effect, the amount charged would be prorated for the remainder of each policy's term.

Contact Jeff Harrington at jharrington@tampabay.com. Follow @JeffMHarrington.