Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Benefits of E-Service

I attended the Florida Workers' Advocates' (FWA) annual Educational Conference on June 8, 2012 in Orlando. This is always an interesting conference, and affords opportunities to discuss the workers' compensation practice with a variety of attorneys. It is informative, despite some complaints or ideas being beyond the scope of issues which the OJCC can address. One recurrent example is the provisions of the attorney fee statute. I recognize that there is frustration and anger about Fla. Stat.§440.34. However, change in that statute can come from the legislature.

An attorney suggested to me at the FWA that he finds it more productive to serve petitions for benefits (PFB) upon employer and carriers (E/C), without filing them with the OJCC. He explained that this puts the issues upon the table for E/C resolution and does not burden the OJCC docket with a PFB that may ultimately not need to be filed, due to resolution of the issues. The response provisions of Fla. Stat. §440.192(8) may or may not be triggered by service of an un-filed PFB. That determination would be up to the Judge who is assigned to the case if the PFB is ultimately filed. 

However, as reported earlier in this blog, the OJCC will be bringing electronic service to e-JCC users in the near future. That new process will allow service pursuant to the alternate language in Fla. Stat. §440.192(1) "The employee shall also serve copies of the petition for benefits by certified mail, or by electronic means approved by the Deputy Chief Judge, upon the employer and the employer’s carrier." (Emphasis added). 

Mailing a petition will incur basic postage charges of $.45 (up to one ounce) to $.85 (up to three ounces, depending on the paper, volume of attachments, etc.). Added to this is the Certified charge of $2.95 currently according to the U.S.P.S. So, service of a PFB currently costs the Claimant between $6.80 ($.45 + $2.95 = $3.40, x 2 = $6.80) and $7.60 ($.85 + $2.95 = $3.80, x 2 = $7.60).  

There is an additional charge for a "return receipt" between $1.15 (email receipt) and $2.35 (U.S. Mail receipt). To utilize this service for both the Employer and the Carrier would double these charges to $2.30 to $4.70. So, if return receipt is used, this increases the cost to $9.10 ($2.30 + $6.80) to $12.30 ($4.70 + $7.60) per petition served. 

In 2011, 64,679 PFB were filed, and the Certified mail service of those petitions cost injured workers or their attorneys between $439,817 (64,679 x $6.80) and $795,551 (64,679 x $12.30). Each of the Responses to Petition, were sent by Certified mail also, and the alternative language in Fla. Stat. §440.192(8) will allow carriers to similarly avoid Certified mail expense when e-service is implemented, "The carrier shall provide copies of the response to the filing party, employer, and claimant by certified mail or by electronic means approved by the Deputy Chief Judge." (Emphasis added). 

The e-JCC electronic filing platform already provides savings to attorneys and carriers. Before e-filing, the PFB were required to be sent to the OJCC by certified mail. Before e-filing, the carrier had to mail their response to the OJCC. The OJCC projects that the savings to practitioners and carriers from the e-filing, and the minimum e-service savings described above, will easily exceed one million dollars annually. This is a tremendous savings. Of note, the entire OJCC e-filing process has been developed and deployed for less than one million dollars in total programming expense, to date.  

Returning to the premise that serving "un-filed" PFBs is advisable.  E-filing is mandatory. Therefore, an attorney that prepares a paper PFB to serve, without filing, on the Employer/Carrier will not be able to later file that paper PFB, if filing becomes necessary.  Thus, there is a risk that effort will have to be duplicated in later creating the e-PFB if filing is necessitated. 

Additionally, as e-service becomes reality in coming weeks, a practitioner that elects to serve a paper PFB by Certified mail will be spending money unnecessarily. Electronic filing of that PFB, with the advantageous e-service available through that process will save significant expense. As important, the OJCC database is designed to accommodate the volume of PFBs that are filed annually, and much more. There is no detriment to filing PFBs with the OJCC and enjoying the cost savings that will flow from the avoidance of Certified mail.  

Understanding the motivation of seeking early issue-resolution, and appreciating the sentiment of not burdening the OJCC database/docket, it is likely more cost-effective to file the PFB and use the e-service alternative. Decreasing the costs of practicing comp is both within the authority of the OJCC and beneficial to the parties and practitioners that participate in this system. The OJCC is committed to leveraging technology to make the practice of workers' compensation as cost-effective as practical.

I welcome your comments, ideas, suggestions and criticisms. E-mail me at david_langham@doah.state.fl.us.

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