I’ve been fairly critical of the Florida Legislature and its initial attempts to “fix” the states workers’ compensation system. This year I’ve described their initial considerations this way:
If Florida workers’ comp were a house, it would be on fire. Smoke would be billowing from every crack and opening, and flames would be shooting out several windows. Residents on the second and third floors would be leaning out crying for someone to rescue them. Our legislature, in the form of the fire department, would very quickly roll up in their shiny new fire engine. They would hop off the truck, and quickly set to work rolling out the hoses, connecting to fire hydrants, and starting the pumps. They would then proceed to dump tons of water – on the unattached garage adjacent to the burning house.
That was written in response to early debate over changing the rating structure in the state; an action that in no way addressed the issues we currently face. However, I am nothing if not fair, and when our wayward representatives finally hit on a bill that I agree with, I should say something.
They’ve hit on a bill I agree with. In fact, I fully support it.
HB 1107 is a bill intended to exempt injured workers’ data from the state’s public record disclosure laws. If passed, no longer will Florida injured workers’ personal data be made available for anyone who wishes to possess it. I think it is a measure that is long overdue.
There are few benefits for having this data publicly available. One of the few; injured worker attorneys may access it to make sure that new clients are being honest with them. More than one attorney has had their work torpedoed by the late revelation of previous injury; one not disclosed to said attorney when they were retained. Beyond that, the legal usefulness of such data being public is scant – and dubious at best.
Most often injured workers are besieged by advertisements for legal representation, and that can be the result of this data being made readily available. In my humble opinion, this practice can serve to increase litigation rates for some cases where none is necessary. To be clear, litigation is sometimes a necessary tool that keeps people honest, but if a lawyer enters a case and only secures what a worker would have otherwise attained, there is not much benefit there for anyone but the lawyer. I will assume that injured workers are not idiots; if they are getting the shaft they will know to seek out competent legal counsel. Besides, there are numerous other ways they can be reached (like every 30 seconds on TV). Their personal data doesn’t need to be displayed online before God and everybody.
The bill, as of this writing, is in the hands of the Florida Senate Oversight, Transparency and Administration Subcommittee. It has the support of Associated Industries of Florida, a powerful business association in the state. My sources tell me that it will proceed to the floor, and has a good chance of clearing both houses relatively intact.
Will miracles never cease. With the passing of HB 1107, we will be able to chalk up a rare win for Florida’s legislature and our workers’ compensation system.