I am hearing from a few folks recently. They have curiosity about the rate of filings at the OJCC. Let's be clear on what the OJCC does not know. The OJCC is a litigation and mediation process. Our function is dispute resolution and adjudication. We have no data on how many accidents are occurring in Florida (accident frequency), or are being reported. That is a function of the Division of Workers' Compensation.
The Office of Judges of Compensation Claims reports filing volumes each year in its annual report. The filing volumes of interest are both “petition” filings and “new case” filings.
In a particular case, an injured workers might file a single petition (“PFB”) or several. Thus, the PFB volumes may be a more relevant measure of litigation activity in the system, but may not provide a reliable measure of the rate at which cases are entering the litigation process. Conversely, “new cases” measures only the appearance of a new injured worker/accident date into the process. This measure may more accurately describe the “frequency” of litigated claims, but provides little insight into the intensity of those claims (is it a claim in which litigation will be for a single benefit or many?).
Throughout the year, we monitor the available data monthly and can project volumes based on “year-to-date.” Through the first ten months of 2016 (fiscal year runs from July 1, 2015 through June 30, 2016), Florida petition volumes were up markedly.
Overall, at the end of April, 2016 the OJCC was projecting a 10% petition filing increase for 2016. The ten month period totaled 54,369 PFB compared to 49,479 for the same ten month period in fiscal 2015.
The “new case” rates did not show as pervasive a trend toward increase, but overall suggested increase. One month conversely demonstrated a decrease in "new case" filings, and three other months of the fiscal 2016 period demonstrated less than 1% increase over the same month in 2015. At the end of April, the OJCC was projecting a probable 3.5% increase in “new cases” for 2016.
The filing of "new cases" in May 2016 (2,638) was notably higher than May 2015 (2,409), a 10% increase. Though notable, that month was not the most significant increase of the year, which was February (2,600 over 2015 total of 2,272) with a 14% one-month increase in "new cases." With May 2016 included, the projected increase for 2016 in "new cases" has been amended to 4% or more.
PFB volumes in May 2016 were more markedly increased, 6,119, compared to 4,937 in May 2015. This is an increase of 24%. The inclusion of this significant monthly increase has shifted the predicted overall increase for 2016 from 10% (estimated at the end of April 2016) to 11.2%. There was another month in 2016, November, in which the increase was as notable (22%). Thereafter the rate of increase moderated until May.
Despite the fluctuations in the volume of increase, PFB filing trends continued to be positive throughout fiscal 2016. Whether the findings regarding May signal a trend to greater increase, or an anomalous month similar to November 2015, remains to be seen.
There will be those who question why the filing rates are changing, what is the basis for the overall trends? That analysis will be for others.