Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Gainesville Nominees Announced

The Statewide Judicial Nominating Commission for Judges of Compensation Claims met in Orlando on August 7, 2017. The nominations for the Gainesville vacancy are

Stephen Armstrong
Timothy Stanton
Laura Buck

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Applicants for Judicial Positions July 2017

The Statewide Judicial Nominating Commission for Judges of Compensation Claims will meet in Orlando on August 7, 2017 at 1:00 (Marriott World Center hotel, room to be announced). The applicants for reappointment are:

Judge Neal Pitts, Orlando
Judge Eduardo Almeyda, Miami

The applicants for the position in Gainesville are

Stephen Armstrong, of Jacksonville
Laura Buck, of Gainesville
Lourdes Sancerni, of Gainesville
Timothy Stanton, of Tampa

The applicants for the position in Tallahassee are

Robert Wells, of Miami

Monday, July 3, 2017

ALS and Bob Keeter, RIP Bob

Today, I sadly convey the news of Bob Keeter's passing. The following obituary he wrote himself tells his thoughts better than I could. It has been a long road for Bob and his family since his diagnosis with this pernicious disease. My thoughts are with his loved ones this day. 

Robert A. 'Bob' Keeter, born on July 13, 1955, at the old Alachua General Hospital and died on June 28, 2017 from ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease) which began in April 2011 and slowly extinguished his physical abilities, overall health and ultimately, ability to breathe. 

I am survived by the truest loves life could bring, the perfect fulfillment of my most fervent dreams: my so deeply loved Beth (God's perfect gift when needed most), my daughters Danielle and Sydnie (who endured the crushing heartbreak of an earlier divorce, yet found ways to love and be loved) and my son Noah (whom I cannot write about without being overwhelmed by tears of absolute joy and yet sadness at being removed so early from his life). Beth's sister Lara and husband Rick, together with their children Sarah Beth, Annie, Gracie, Josh, Esther and Lucy have been loving travelers through my life. 

Those very dear family members who died before me were my beloved Mom and Dad (Barbara and Aden Keeter), my Mom's wonderful parents, Nana and Grandpap (Margaret and Frank Wilson) and Beth's Mom and Dad (Janice and Barry Graves) all of whose wondrous friendships, loves and desires to include me as well as so many others, forever positively changed my life. Their deaths created tremendous voids in my life. 

To all my past and current friends, co-workers, clients and acquaintances, I extend my most sincere and truly heart-felt thanks for all the camaraderie, conversations, smiles and overall kindnesses you extended to me throughout the years, and certainly after I became ill. As for any and all of my failed relationships, I offer a forever apology and hope in the end all will be forgiven. For my such beloved family I leave behind - Beth, Danielle, Sydnie and Noah - and friends, I continue my lifelong hope and dream we will one day all enjoy something even better together. 

2nd Timothy 4:7- 'I have fought a good fight. I have finished my course. I have kept the faith'. Psalm 107:1 - 2 Corinthians 1:4: 

A celebration of Bob's life will held on Monday July 3, 2017 at 1:00 PM at Grace United Methodist Church at Fort Clarke, with Pastor Rick Thompson presiding. 

Judge Langham's thoughts:

Bob was a partner of Mac McCarty (I know his name is not Mac, but that is what everyone called him; some say his "real name" is James, at McCarty, Naim & Keeter, P.A.), and was part of a tight-knit group that practiced in Gainesville and surrounding areas. I think I first met him through Jack Langdon, who had departed that geography for the solitude of St. Augustine by that time, though I was travelling there from Jacksonville to try cases before Jonathan Ohlman and hearing stories of the "old days" with Judge Akins. 

I was particularly touched by the manner in which the workers' compensation community rallied about Bob in the last several years. His diagnosis and prognosis was never good in my perception, yet his attitude and spirit were never bent nor broken. I am persistently in awe of such attitude and strength; I pray that when my day comes I will meet it with the humility, strength, class, and resolve that Bob had.

The Florida workers' compensation family has lost a long-time member. A Gator by heart and education, and a Florida workers' compensation lawyer for the last 33 years. Godspeed Bob.

Safe travels and comfort to all that travel this day to his celebration. 

Monday, May 1, 2017

April Petition Filings Posted

Today is Law Day across the country. It also marks the first day of the last week of the Florida Legislative Session, which might or Might not bring changes to workers' compensation (discussed in a May 1, 2017 post below. 

The petition volumes this year continue to be somewhat unpredictable. Filings in some months are markedly above the same month last year, while other 2017 months have demonstrated remarkable consistency.

The PFB filings in April 2017 exemplified another of the remarkably consistent, decreasing slightly (1%) from April 2016. Overall, the average monthly change through the first ten months of 2017 (July 1, 2016 through April 30, 2017) has been 6%. The projected change for the entire fiscal year has hovered between 6% and 7% for much of the year, and is currently 6.2%. Because two of the most significant PFB filing volume months for 2015-16 were May and June, it is possible that more moderate volumes in those months this year could result in a rate of increase below the current 6.2%. 

New Case volumes are demonstrating less elasticity (propensity to change) overall. There have been some similarly wide fluctuations from last year in certain months. However, overall, 2016-17 currently has the exact same volume of New Case filings as there were as of April 30, 2016 in 2015-16. New Case volumes might end the year with very little demonstrated change compared to 2015-16. 

Legislative Update 2017

The Florida Legislative Session runs through Friday (May 5, 2017). The length of the Session is set by the state constitution. The Legislature's calendar predicts closure of the 2017 Session around 10:00 a.m. Friday, but the chambers will vote on their adjournments when they deem their respective business done. 

Much of the news this Session has centered on the state budget. However, compromise and agreement has been reportedThe budget is a mandatory legislative function. In recent months, some prognosticated that the Legislature might fail to reach a budget consensus during the Session. Had that occurred, or if some other particular need was perceived, the Legislature can be called into a "Special Session." Last year, some advocated for a "Special Session" regarding workers' compensation, but it did not occur. Recently, with a budget seemingly agreed upon, there has been less discussion of any perceived need for a "Special Session" in 2017. 

There has been significant discussion, debate, and discord about workers' compensation this year. The main proposals are noted below. 

Florida's legislature operates on a two year Legislative term. Bills introduced in the first year of a term (2017) remain viable through the end of the second year (2018). Therefore, discussion of the bills currently pending should perhaps include whether they will pass this year and whether they might be taken-up again next spring for further discussion, revision, and consideration. 

The House passed a significant bill regarding workers' compensation, House Bill (HB) 7085. The last House action, as of this morning, was its passage on April 19, 2017 (82 to 37). When a bill is passed in either chamber, it is sent to the other chamber in "messages." In order to reach the Governor's desk for consideration, a bill must first pass both the House and the Senate (each referred to as a "chamber"). The Florida Senate received HB 7085 in messages on April 20, 2017 and referred it to the Senate Rules Committee. UPDATE May 2, 2017 - the Senate has taken no substantive action on HB 7085. 

The Senate also has a significant bill regarding workers' compensation, Senate Bill (SB) 1582. It is listed on the "special orders" calendar for May 1, 2017. That means that a vote on the bill by the entire Senate is likely today. If it is passed, as expected, it would similarly be transmitted in messages to the House for consideration. When bills are received by a chamber, they might be referred to a chamber committee, or could be voted on by that chamber. UPDATE May 1, 2017 - this bill remains on the "special order" calendar, and may well be voted on by the Senate this week. UPDATE May 2, 2017 - this bill was "temporarily postponed" or "TP'd" today. It will be back on the calendar tomorrow. 

There is significant discussion of both of these bills and the impending end of the session. There is seemingly no end to opinions and conjecture regarding the potential for either bill to pass both chambers for presentment to the Governor. That potential is usually seen as more likely when the two chambers are each working on identical or significantly similar bills. 

The 2017 workers compensation bills have similarities, but are far from identical. It is possible that either chamber could accept the language of the other chamber's bill. In that case the "accepting" chamber would amend its own bill by substituting the language of the other chamber's bill. It is also possible that the two chambers could work with both bills and reach some compromise of language that is acceptable to each. Agreements such as these might take significant discussion and time. 

There are also less comprehensive bills, which have some impact on Florida workers' compensation.

SB 1008 (many bill numbers include "CS," which reflects that the proposal is a "committee substitute" for the originally filed bill; this bill is currently "CS/CS/SB 1008," meaning there have been two significant committee substitutes) would exempt information about injured and deceased workers from Florida public record laws. This bill was last acted upon April 28, and is on the Senate's special order calendar for May 1, 2017. SB 1008 applies specifically to information submitted to the Department of Financial Services (Division of Workers' Compensation).

There is a similar public records bill in the House, HB 1107 (which is also the second CS). The impact of the HB is broader. It applies to information submitted to the Division, as addressed in SB 1008, but also to information submitted to the Agency for Health Care Administration and the Division of Administrative Hearings (Office of Judges of Compensation Claims). The House passed HB 1107 unanimously and it was sent to the Senate in messages on April 25, 2017. The Senate has referred the bill to Senate committees for consideration. UPDATE May 1, 2017 - the Senate withdrew the bill from the assigned committees and substituted the HB 1107 for SB 1008. HB 1107 is scheduled for a Senate vote this week. Update May 2, 2017 - the Senate passed this bill unanimously.

Thus, the two public record bills are also not identical. Therefore, for changes in workers' compensation and public records to reach the Governor this year, compromise between the chambers would be required. 

HB 1007 is not per se a workers' compensation bill. however, it would require all insurance carriers to address fraud. Some predict that it could receive a final House vote this week. Whether the Senate will act upon it in the final days of session is a matter of discussion. The House bill has similarities with SB 1012, which is set for a Senate vote this week. 

Time will tell whether the week of May 1, 2017 brings action on these proposals. It is worth noting that a great many bills are filed each year. Few successfully travel through the committee process and reach the floor of either chamber. Fewer still pass both chambers and are presented to the Governor. And, whether to veto such a passed bill is up to the Governor. The path from bill to law is is challenging, sometimes difficult to understand, and often time-consuming. With only a few days left in the 2017 Session, many will be watching these and other bills of interest. 

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Colorado Compensation Conference 2017

The Colorado Department of Labor opens its 2017 Workers' Compensation Conference on Monday in scenic Colorado Springs. It is an ambitious three-day agenda, and has attracted over 175 attendees from across Colorado and various other states, including 12 from Florida. The quality of the programming is illustrated in the variety of attendees. And there are exhibitors and speakers, all told there will be over 300 people in attendance. 

A big draw Monday afternoon will be the Regulator Roundtable. For 75 minutes, the Director of the Colorado Division of Workers' Compensation will moderate a discussion of what is topical in American workers' compensation.

The topics are not published in the conference materials. The Agenda merely promises "agency leaders from three states to a panel discussion focused on the challenges, concerns and issues facing jurisdictions across the nation." And, that is fairly general. What are the issues and concerns facing workers' compensation?

I am honored to be on the panel in Colorado Springs, but I am not the moderator. So, I don't know all of the topics that could be mentioned, and the free-flowing nature of a panel like this is truly a significant part of its charm. But, here are my predictions of possible discussions:

(1) The challenges of the Grand Bargain. Workers' compensation is a series of complex systems. It involves and affects every American, despite the vast majority never noticing or appreciating it.

(2) Legislative and regulatory policy development. How competing interests and perspectives vie for attention and primacy in a complex and evolving political process.

(3) The debates and challenges of constitutionality. Recent years have brought unprecedented volumes of legal challenges. The very essence of the Grand Bargain, access to courts, freedom of association and more have been debated.

(4) Challenges of due process and equal protection. Legislatures have provided special benefits and presumptions to some workers. First responders have come to enjoy status and benefits denied to others; more recently moves to compensate mental injuries and cancers have begun.

(5) Subjectivity and objectivity have each been decried and championed. Recent trends are toward standardization, with states adopting treatment guides, impairment guides, and medication formularies.

(6) The injured continue to struggle with the truth of pain. The promise of opioids has, for many, instead been a disappointing lie. Patients have acclimatized, doses have escalated, addiction has become reality, and death has loomed. It is an illustration of the convergence of medical art, science, compassion, legislation, regulation, competing interests and the challenges endemic to workers' compensation.

Your panelists are fortunate to be led by moderator Paul Tauriello. Paul is Director of the Colorado Division, and a long-time leader in workers' compensation. He brings decades of experience to the podium. Paul has been involved in a variety of national workers' compensation discussions, and is a frequent presenter, panelist and moderator at national conferences. He brings focus to challenges that these systems face. 

The Oklahoma experience over the last few years has been intriguing on a variety of levels. The state recently (2014) abandoned its' workers' compensation court process and joined the majority of states with an administrative hearing process for claims. It experimented with an "opt-out" for employers, which ambitiously promised the best of everything to everyone, but which the courts concluded was unconstitutional. From benefits to process, there have been various constitutional challenges in Oklahoma, and throughout Bob Gilliland has been at the helm.

In the Oklahoma system, workers' compensation is managed by a three-member Commission, of which Bob Gilliland is the chair. He has practiced law in Oklahoma for 51 years. The Commission there provides regulatory leadership, management of both claims and administrative adjudication processes, and acts as an appellate court to review decisions. Oklahoma has been fortunate to have Bob's leadership and experience on hand during its' transition to a modern administrative system. 

Georgia's workers' compensation system is similarly organized, with a three-member Board charged with the overseeing the administrative, regulatory, and adjudicatory processes. Georgia's Board similarly acts as an appellate body, reviewing the decisions of the state's administrative law judges (ALJ). Chair Frank McKay was appointed in 2013, after practicing workers' compensation for 22 years. His experience was both in trial and appellate practice, and he served on the Georgia Workers' Compensation Advisory Council. Several states have similar organizations focused on the challenges of both legislative and regulatory management of the system. 

And, unfortunately, they were unable to find a third speaker of such caliber and so yours truly will join the panel. I am humbled to share the stage with these luminaries of the workers' compensation world.

We will endeavor, in the course of 75 minutes, to bring a variety of subjects to the table. There will likely be agreements and consensus, but there will undoubtedly be disagreement and debate. It is the "must-see" of the Colorado conference. Fortunately, it is followed at 5:00 by the Welcome Reception. Frankly, following 75 minutes of discussion this focused, involved, and passionate, you are likely to feel you need the break. 

I look forward to seeing you at the Regulator's Roundtable, Rocky Mountain style. Sit in the front, we will be calling on those that try to hide in the back rows!

Friday, April 7, 2017

March PFB Filing Rates Posted

The figures are in for Florida workers' compensation litigation filings for 3/4 of the fiscal year, through March 31, 2017.

The PFB filings were up notably in January (14%) over the same month last year. February was statistically unchanged from a year prior. March figures returned to the trend of increase. The average of monthly changes has been approximately 3%. The OJCC continues to project an annualized increase in the range of 6-7%.