Prior to 2003, Florida attorneys charged by the number of hours spent litigating a case in smaller, workers’ comp claims. In larger cases the attorney’s fee, on average, equaled about 25% of the lump-sum amount. Additionally, these attorney fees were paid by the employer/carrier and not the claimant. However in the early 2000’s, changes were made to the way attorney fees were determined for the claimant. In an effort to please employers and insurance carriers, a limit was placed on how much claimant attorneys could be paid in a single case. As a result, claimant attorneys would not be compensated adequately for the hours they put into a case, at times earning under two dollars per hour. Meanwhile, defense attorneys continued to receive their usual fees. Attorneys on different sides of the courtroom were not being paid evenly. Beyond that, claimant attorneys, after the 2003 reforms, were now discouraged from taking smaller, workers compensation cases. Claimant attorneys could not put countless hours into a case knowing they would not be reasonably compensated; they had to invest their time into other cases. This injustice lasted until the settling of a Florida Supreme Court case, Castellanos vs Next Door Company, in 2016. In the case, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the law limiting claimant attorneys’ fees was unconstitutional. After the case, claimant attorneys returned to being paid by the hour and were again able to take on smaller, workers comp claims.
2003 – Reform Act Discourages Legal Assistance
In 2003, the Florida state legislature passed a workers’ compensation reform law that would limit attorney’s fees and, in turn, denied attorneys reasonable wages in workers compensation cases. The new rules stated that a judge of compensation claims may, for medical only cases, not approve an attorney’s fee higher than $1,500. However, claimant attorneys spend countless hours collecting professional opinions, navigating clients through thickets of paperwork and other specific tasks when preparing a case. As exemplified by the Florida Supreme Court case of Castellanos vs Next Door Company, the fee awarded to the attorney was often inadequate when compared with the number of hours spent working a case. Therefore, limited and unreasonable attorney fees deterred attorneys from taking various types of workers’ compensation cases to the detriment of workers who depend on competent lawyers to help them reach a fair claim.
2016 – Supreme Court of Florida: Castellanos vs Next Door Company
Marvin Castellanos was a Florida native who made a claim against his employer, Next Door Company, and his insurer, Amerisure. The case was taken to the Florida Supreme Court after a lower court judge upheld the attorney’s mandatory fee limit in the case. It was determined that in the Castellanos case, under the mandatory fee schedule, the claimant’s attorney had earned $1.53 per hour for 107.2 hours. On April 28, 2016, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the mandatory fee schedule placed on attorneys by the law was unconstitutional as a violation of due process under both the Florida and United States Constitutions. This ruling meant that workers’ compensation attorneys in Florida would return to receiving reasonable pay for the hours they worked. Additionally, this ruling allowed lawyers to sign up smaller cases and assist workers with less valuable claims.
What Types of Cases Benefitted from the Ruling?
Controverted cases, or any case in which an employer or carrier challenges or denies a claim, are again being accepted by claimant lawyers. Under the overturned, mandatory fee schedule, the claimant attorneys would not be able to receive enough compensation to justify signing up a controverted case. In a case where the employer/carrier challenges a claim, the claimant attorney must often spend several hours preparing to try a case. Claimant attorneys remained hesitant to take on smaller, controverted cases to which they would dedicate large amounts of time for little to no compensation under the prior law.
In addition to controverted cases, chemical exposure cases also require immense amounts of time and preparation from the claimant’s attorney. Chemical exposure cases are unique in that they require clear and convincing evidence that the claimant has been exposed to a specific substance at levels that can cause injury. As in controverted cases, claimant attorneys were deterred from chemical exposure cases due to the lack of compensation offered for their work, specifically when compared to defense attorneys.
Lastly, medical-only cases, or cases where the claimant is only being denied some type of medical treatment, could again be accepted by claimant attorneys. In cases where the claimant was being denied necessary, medical care such as prescription medication, therapy or other forms of treatment, the claimant attorney would not receive enough compensation to justify signing up these smaller claims under the unconstitutional, mandatory fee schedule. Now attorneys may receive their hourly wages, paid for by the employer or carrier, no matter how small the claim.
Injured on the Job?
Call Frank M. Eidson, P.A. now at 407-315-2764 (toll free: 888-245-2855) if you have been injured on the job and they have denied your controverted, chemical exposure or medical-only claim. You may also email him personally at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his office at 327 N. Orange Ave, Orlando, FL, 32801.