TALLAHASSEE – Barring emergency circumstances, a Florida court ruled that no extensions will be given in the appeal case looking to overturn a court order that invalidated the approved 14.5 percent rate increase on the state’s workers’ compensation rates.

The rate increase was scheduled to take effect Dec. 1, 2016.

According to a document on www.floir.com, on Dec. 12, 2016, the District Court of Appeal, First District issued an order stating, “appellants shall file their initial briefs on or before January 11, 2017. The answer brief shall be filed no later than January 23, 2017. The reply brief(s) shall be filed no later than February 2, 2017. No extensions of time shall be entertained by this court on any matter absent a bona fide showing of emergency circumstances.”

“We cannot predict how long the court of appeal will take to rule on this matter,” Lauren G. Brunswick, of the Miami-based firm Shubin & Bass, P.A., told the Florida Record. Brunswick is one of the attorneys representing James Fee, an injury attorney who challenged the rate increase.

“However, the District Court of Appeal, First District has ordered that the appeal is to proceed on an expedited basis,” Brunswick said.

The court’s order that the appeal should move quickly followed the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation’s notice that it was appealing the court order issued on Nov. 23, 2016 in the Fee v. National Council on Compensation Insurance/Office court case, according to www.insurancejournal.com. This order invalidated the 14.5 percent overall combined statewide average rate increase approved by OIR on Oct. 5, 2016. The rate increase applies to both new and renewal workers’ compensation insurance policies in Florida, according to court records.

Fee, a Miami-based attorney who represents injured workers, challenged the rate increase, stating the OIR violated the state’s Sunshine and Public Records laws by holding internal, private meetings. In November 2016, Leon County Circuit Court Judge Karen Gievers agreed with his claim, blocking the rate increase from taking effect. The rate halt is on hold until the appeal court reviews the case.

“As properly determined by the trial court, the 14.5 percent workers’ compensation-insurance rate increase resulted from ‘multiple non-public, secret meetings held by NCCI internally and with the OIR before the Aug, 16, 2016 public hearing and NCCI’s further violation of the Sunshine Laws after the August 16, 2016 public hearing,’” Brunswick said. “NCCI and the OIR’s violations of the law deprived Mr. Fee and the public of their right to effectively participate in the workers’ compensation rate-making process. In light of these violations, the rate increase should not have been proposed by NCCI or considered by the OIR and the commissioner for approval, and approval of the 14.5 percent rate increase by the OIR was illegal,”

NCCI is a rating organization based in Boca Raton, Florida, that can request rate increases and decreases for insurers selling workers’ compensation and employee liability insurance coverage throughout the state, according to court records.

Amy Bogner, a communications director for the Florida OIR, told the Florida Record that the office “cannot comment on pending litigation.”

Brunswick said it is important that the appeal court upholds the trial court’s ruling for the benefit of all Florida businesses and employees.

“Affirmance of the trial court’s ruling is necessary to ensure transparency and accountability in this rate-making process,” Brunswick said.

No new motions have been filed in the case and no hearing dates have been set, Brunswick said.

“No hearings are anticipated to be scheduled in this matter,” Bogner said. “The First District Court of Appeal (DCA) may schedule oral arguments, but the timing of which is unknown.”

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Florida First District Court of Appeal
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