Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Filing Volumes are down Again for Fiscal 2012-13

The OJCC annual report is months away. However we have begun gathering the data, which will be reported in late October or early November. One statistic for which we receive multiple annual requests is the filing volumes. As explained in numerous annual reports, it is difficult to define the precise relevance of the filing volume information. This is because the two statutorily required matrices each provide a measure of volume, but it is doubtful that either provides a precise, accurate, measure of litigation activity. These two matrices are "Petitions for Benefits" (PFB), and "new cases." Neither account for the volume of litigation which enters our system by motion, for costs, for fees, etc.

Petitions for Benefits are the jurisdictional document by which injured workers seek payment of specific benefits, determinations of compensability of accidents, or awards of medical care and treatment (these are examples, there are many varied benefits that an injured workers might seek in Florida). Each PFB could include a single issue, upon which the injured worker seeks adjudication, or a single PFB could include claims for a vast volume and diverse character of individual specific benefits.

New cases are defined by the OJCC as those PFB which reflect a date of accident and injured worker combination which is new to the OJCC. IF an injured workers has never had a prior workers' compensation accident, then when they file it is a "new case." If an injured worker has a prior claim, and files for a different date of accident, this is likewise a "new case," despite the fact that we have prior knowledge of the injured worker's existence from the prior claim. Petitions filed in such case after that "new case" petition would be accounted for in the PFB volume. So PFB volumes each year are inclusive of all claims that year, on new cases and any that are already known to our system. 

This does not mean these "new case" claims cannot have been ongoing in an administrative fashion, with benefits being administratively delivered by an employer or carrier without dispute(s). Many claims are handled in that administrative fashion with the OJCC never learning of them as there are no disputes for us to mediate or adjudicate. It is critical to understand that the role of the OJCC is strictly limited to the mediation and adjudication of disputes. Therefore claims upon which benefits are being administratively provided, do not enter the OJCC system. 

These two volume measures are interesting. And notably the PFB volume measure has been much more elastic than the new case volume. The following figures are preliminary, and we have just begun the audit process that will eventually result in the final figures we will report in October or November. According to this preliminary data, in 2012-13, the PFB volume decreased by approximately 5.4 percent, to 58,041. This is consistent with the decrease in 2011-12, which was 5.1 percent. Likewise, the decrease in new cases was consistent in 2012-13, at approximately 1.52 percent, compared to the 1.5 percent in 2011-12.

The "new case" volume metrics is a recent addition to the data collection process, and was only collected after the OJCC became a part of the Division of Administrative Hearings in October 2001. It is therefore difficult to use the "new case" volume data for long-term comparisons, that is over the course of decades instead of years. The PFB volume, however, was gathered beginning in 1994 (when the operative pleading statutorily switched from "claims" to PFB). Therefore, this PFB volume information is available for comparison over the last 20 years. The 20 year comparison is documented in the OJCC annual reports available at www.FLJCC.org. 

This analysis is interesting, because it allows us to discern that the volume of petitions in 2012-13 (58,041) exceeds the volume filed in any year prior to 1995-96. For each such petition, it should be assumed, that a certain volume of ancillary adjudication processes will be required. This will include motions, potentially motion hearings, gathering of information, and issuance of orders. Thus, although PFB filings have decreased in the last decade, specifically since the 2003 legislative reforms, the workload is still similar to the 1995-96 period. 

Neither petition volume nor "new case" volume translates directly into mediator or judicial workload. As mentioned above, a significant amount of work can be generated by substantive motions such as fee, cost and advance issues. Procedural issues and motions also require the investment of time. The critical point of all of this explanation is that decreasing filing volumes may be an interesting element of workload considerations. However, they simply do not, and cannot, tell the whole story of mediator and judge workload.


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