A circuit court judge Wednesday struck down a 14.5 percent increase in workers’ compensation insurance rates due to begin taking effect next month, ruling that a ratings agency violated the Sunshine Law in preparing its rate proposal.

Judge Karen Gievers said the National Council on Compensation Insurance, or NCCI, failed to open its deliberations to the public or provide its data to an actuarial expert retained by the plaintiff in the case.

Since NCCI was acting as an agent of the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation, Gievers, said, it was subject to the state’s open–government requirements.

The rate hike “must be found to be void ab initio” — that is, from the start — “because the lack of sunshine so permeated the process,” Gievers wrote.

“The decision today will save Florida’s businesses deep millions of dollars in premium increases that are now set aside from a Dec. 1 effective date,” said Ron Sachs, a spokesman for plaintiff James Fee.

“NCCI is very disappointed in the decision of the Leon County Circuit Court,” marketing communications director Dean W. Dimke said in a written statment. “We continue to believe that NCCI and the Florida OIR have fully complied with the law.  NCCI plans to appeal the trial court’s decision.

“The office is in the process of reviewing the order to determine next steps,” said Amy Bogner, a spokeswoman for Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier.

The insurance office was also a defendant in the lawsuit.

The rate increase, approved in October, alarmed business interests, including the Florida Chamber of Commerce and Associated Industries of Florida, both of which formed task forces to address it.

NCCI attributed the increase to Florida Supreme Court rulings striking both the state’s cap on attorney fees in workers’ compensation disputes and a two-year cap on temporary permanent disability payments.


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