The Florida Office of Judges of Compensation Claims produces an annual report each November. It is as comprehensive and inclusive as any I have seen in the world of workers' compensation. They are available on the website (under the "reports" tab).
The report is required by Section 440.45(5), Florida Statutes, which delineates multiple metrics that must be addressed. The report, however, addresses more than is mandated, in an effort to convey the full scope of what this office does.
The Florida Legislature has seen fit to define three time parameters for this office: (1) time to mediation, (2) time to trial; and (3) time to final order. These are in § 440.25(4)(d) (trial within 210 days of petition filing and order within 30 days of the conclusion of trial), and § 440.25(1) (mediation within 130 days of petition filing).
It is believed that these statutory requirements resulted from legislative perceptions that this office was not historically timely in its efforts. There are attorneys who can relate anecdotal examples of long waits for trials and orders before last century. Some can relate such instances even after the turn of the century. It is fair to say that some cases simply require more time than others.
For 16 years, these statutory time frames have been referred to and discussed in the annual report. Very rapidly after their implementation, the state mediators began collectively meeting the 130-day parameter for mediation. The process of "auto-scheduling" mediation appointments helped in that regard.
However, the professionals' focus upon meeting the parameter undoubtedly increased compliance. By 2007-08, 100% of the state mediators were averaging fewer than 130 days from petition filing to the initial mediation (some cases are mediated more than once). In 2018-19, for the 11th year in a row, the state mediators each averaged fewer than 130 days.
The definition used by the OJCC for "trial" was consistent for many years between 2006-07 and 2015-16; it included a variety of hearings that each judge determined was "evidentiary." Then the definition was changed because a minority of judges of compensation claims were reporting various simple, procedural and stipulated matters, resulting in minimally involved orders as “trials.”
The term was redefined to a more constricted population, primarily merits orders on petitions and attorney fee/cost orders. Prior to that change in definition, the overall time to trial had dipped below the 210-day statutory parameter.
The change in definition made a notable impact on that in 2015-16, back to an average above the 210 days. Thereafter, the average performance for this metric did not return to under 210 days until 2018-19.
The change in definition may also have affected the "time to order" measure. There was a notable increase in the days to order that year. However, the time to order trended back downward rapidly after 2015-16. Notably, the 14-day average for 2018-19 is less than half the statutory parameter of 30 days.
These are overall aggregate averages of all the trial orders entered in a particular year. Notably in 2018-19, however, 100% of the judges of compensation claims individually averaged fewer than 30 days between trial and order. That is a significant and noteworthy achievement. It is historical, because even in previous years when the overall aggregate average was within the 30 days, 2018-19 is the first time that 100% of the judges met this metric on average.
In that, 2018-19 was a banner year for the performance of the OJCC.
It is possible that with increasing petition volumes, which will be addressed in a future post, that meeting these three metrics will be increasingly challenging. However, at this time the OJCC is proud to have met the three metrics for 2018-19 on average.
More so, the OJCC is proud that all mediators averaged fewer than the 130 days and all judges averaged fewer than 30 days between trial and order. That 100% individual effort is worthy of celebration and congratulation. It is indeed a proud day for this agency, and the credit belongs to the phenomenal individuals who serve as mediators and judges in the Florida OJCC.
Too often, we see or recognize organization. Too infrequently, we pause to recognize the individual. The individual is critical to the performance of any team. The OJCC is blessed with a team of outstanding individuals, judges and mediators. We do not note their contributions often or loudly enough. But we should.
David Langham is deputy chief judge of the Florida Office of Judges of Compensation Claims. This column is reprinted, with his permission, from his Florida Workers' Comp Adjudication blog.
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