Sarasota lawmaker supports bill extending wait times for benefits to injured workers

Investigations

He claims he wants to protect workers who get hurt on the job, but State Sen. Joe Gruters (R-Sarasota) is backing a bill that would make injured workers wait 45 business days in order to receive benefits. 

In Florida, workers compensation insurance companies get to decide where, when, and who will treat injured workers. Workers like Neil Eckelberger of Lakeland, who suffered severe injuries in an explosion at work in Sept. 2017. 

Neil’s workers compensation carrier, Travelers makes decisions regarding his treatment.

“Every time he goes to one of these Travelers doctors, there’s nothing wrong with him, magically,” Neil’s wife Robin stated.

Disagreements about his care forced the Eckelbergers to hire an attorney to file petitions for benefits.

Senator Keith Perry (R-Gainesville) introduced Senate Bill 1636, which gives insurance companies 45 working days to decide whether to grant benefits.

Sources tell 8 On Your Side the bill is being heavily pushed by Senate leadership and big business.

A vote on Perry’s bill was postponed twice due to a lack of support.  

But Sen. Gruters, who is the Chairman of Florida’s Republican party is all in.

“I would have voted in favor of Keith Perry’s bill, I thought it made, makes a lot of sense,” Gruters explained.

The bill may help out Perry’s roofing company. Workers comp rates for roofers are among the highest in the state. If his bill passes, Perry’s insurance premiums will likely drop.

“We should try to do everything we can to help out the businesses out there,” Gruters added.  “But at the same time make sure that the workers are protected.” 

“This bill does nothing to return benefits to workers, it does nothing to simplify the process,” Richard Templin of the AFL-CIO told lawmakers sitting on the Senate Committee on Banking and Insurance, which includes Gruters.

What it does do is limit the amount of money insurance carriers pay attorneys of injured workers.

Gruters is in favor of that too. 

“You want to eliminate or cut down on frivolous lawsuits,” he said. 

Neil Eckelberger’s attorney Michael Winer points out litigation occurs when injured workers and insurance companies disagree about the care and benefits provided.

“Insurance carriers only owe attorneys fees when they wrongfully deny benefits,” Winer stated.

Critics contend this bill puts injured workers at a distinct disadvantage to insurance industry giants.

Sen. Gruters told us the bill is dead, but there was no vote on it earlier this week. it was temporarily postponed.

We will continue monitoring the progress of this legislation.

If you know of something that you think should be investigated call our 8 On Your Side Helpline at 1 800 338-0808 or contact Steve Andrews at sandrews@wfla.com. 

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