TALLAHASSEE — The 1st District Court of Appeals has overturned a 2016 ruling issued by a circuit court that invalidated a statewide increase in workers' compensation insurance rates. 

The ruling immediately reinstates the 14.5 percent rate increase approved in October.

In the ruling, the appeals said that circuit court erred when it voided the Office of Insurance Regulation's order instating the rate increase.

The case was filed by James Fee Jr., a Miami-based attorney who represents injured workers in workers' compensation cases. Fee bought the suit against both the Office of Insurance Regulation and the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI). The NCCI is private insurance rating organization that researches and suggests rates proposals in conjunction with insurers.

Fee alleged the NCCI failed to comply with Florida’s sunshine law last year in the while working with the Office of Insurance Regulation in implementing the rate hike.

Leon County Circuit Judge Karen Gievers agreed that the law requires a degree of transparency to include committee meetings open to the public when rating agencies are proposing workers' compensation rate changes.

Gievers decided against issuing a stay and instead allowed the proposal to move forward while the OIR worked on an appeal.  

Prior to filing an appeal, the OIR lowered the proposed rate increase from NCCI’s original suggestion of 19.6 percent and decided to go with the lower amount of 14.6 percent. The new rate was to go into effect on Dec. 1.

Judge Lori S. Rowe, who authored the opinion for the appeals panel, disagreed with Gievers' interpretation of Florida’s sunshine laws.

Rowe said that because the NCCI used an individual actuary as opposed to a committee to determine the proposed rate increase, the NCCI, in this case, was not subject to the state’s sunshine law.  

“The Florida Legislature extended the scope of the law to include licensed insurance rating organizations, such as NCCI, under certain specified circumstances,” Rowe wrote.” This unique extension of the Sunshine Law applies only when the rate-determination committee of a rating organization meets to determine workers’ compensation insurance rates. NCCI argues, and it is undisputed, that no committee at NCCI has been charged with the responsibility for determining worker’s compensation insurance rates in over twenty-five years.”

Judges Susan L Kelsey and Judge Harvey L. Jay concurred.

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