First, a little background as I understand workers comp: Years ago, government, workers and employers effectively made a deal that has worked pretty well for everyone. In that deal, workers gave up the right to sue for workplace injuries in exchange for a program where employers were required to contribute to a workers comp fund and employees are paid by a government bureaucracy for their health care and lost time. The system is "no-fault" to the extent that it does not matter if the worker is hurt because the employer had unsafe conditions or if the worker is hurt because he did something boneheaded in violation of rules - either way he gets paid the same. The system avoids moral hazard at least on the employers side by charging higher premiums to employers that have higher claims rates (based on an experience mod system explained here). Employee moral hazard (ie cheating) is supposed to be policed by the bureaucracy, and one can evaluate how much cheating is going on by how high the rates in the state are. California used to have very high rates and lots of cheating, but has cracked down of late and things are better. Florida is the king of workers comp fraud and employee cheating, so much so that many national insurers won't touch Florida and our rates are twice as high (or more) in Florida than in other states.
Already frustrated with Florida over the high amount of cheating and high rates, two things I have seen here of late make me doubly depressed. First, in the last year or so we have started to see claims paid where in addition to, say, $20,000 in actual compensation to a worker, there is an equal amount paid to lawyers. The first time, I was irate. Why are my workers comp dollars going to lawyers? The whole point of the workers comp system is to substitute an administrative no-fault claims system for expensive lawyers and trials.
So this week I get my second surprise about Florida workers comp. I am down in Florida, doing some business as well as visiting the in-laws (which is why blogging has been light) when I start to hear radio commercials by law firms that say "If you have been hurt at work, call us first before you claim workers comp." The message is not even, "call us if you think the administrative decision was unfair" but was "get us involved with every little claim." Does this mean that I am going to start seeing a lawyer 'tax' on every workers comp claim in Florida? If so, Floridians must have passed some pretty dumb legislation somewhere along the way. Now, I might understand this if this was a worker backlash in some state that administratively is over-tough on workers in filing their claims, but Florida has historically been the most generous already. I am sure most of the employers in this state have experienced the "debilitating injury the day before I was going to quit," a tried and true Florida technique for supplementing unemployment insurance for a bit of paid vacation.
Maybe some of the readers can confirm if Florida did something new legislatively over the past few years that opened this up. By the way, and I apologize in advance to all my hard-working readers in Florida, but I don't think there is any other state with a larger population of searching-for-something-for-nothing freeloaders than one can find in Florida. Something culturally seems to be wrong here, and I wonder if Florida might not be the next California, with businesses heading for the exits.