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Workers’ Compensation Attorney Fees

attorney fees

When most workers file a workers’ compensation claim, their state law usually dictates that his employer’s workers compensation insurance company pay for his attorney fees.  The state law typically limits the fees for the claimant’s attorney which, of course, has some effect on limiting the time the attorney will work on the file.

This is NOT the case if a federal employee has a workers’ compensation claim, although the fee must be approved by the federal government, the federal employee must pay his own attorney’s fees –and those fees must be based upon contemporaneous time billing (as opposed to a contingency fee based upon the amount collected on behalf of the employee).

So that is a BIG difference between the rights of “state law” workers compensation claimants and the rights of federal employees.

In a major ruling, the Florida Supreme Court on Thursday said that their state law limiting attorney’s fees in workers compensation insurance cases is unconstitutional.

The 5-2 ruling in the closely watched case was a victory for attorneys who represent injured workers — and a blow to business groups that have long argued legal fees drive up the costs of workers compensation insurance. The fee issue will bounce back to the Legislature, where it could spark a fierce debate.

Justice Barbara Pariente, writing for the court’s majority, said the 2009 law is a violation of due-process rights under the Florida Constitution and the U.S. Constitution because it prevents challenges to the “reasonableness” of attorney’s fees awarded in workers-compensation cases. The ruling stemmed from a case in which an attorney was awarded the equivalent of $1.53 an hour in successfully pursuing a claim for benefits for a worker injured in Miami.

Pariente wrote that the goal of the workers-compensation system is to quickly provide benefits to get injured people back on the job at a reasonable cost to employers.

“This case, and many others like it, demonstrate that despite the stated goal, oftentimes the worker experiences delay and resistance either by the employer or the [insurance] carrier,” wrote Pariente, who was joined in the majority by Chief Justice Jorge Labarga and justices R. Fred Lewis, Peggy Quince and James E.C. Perry. “Without the likelihood of an adequate attorney’s fee award, there is little disincentive for a carrier to deny benefits or to raise multiple defenses, as was done here.”

The case, known as Marvin Castellanos v. Next Door Company, was one of three major challenges to the workers-compensation system that have been pending at the Supreme Court.

Attorney’s fees have long been one of the most contentious issues in the workers’ compensation system, which handles disputes through a legal process outside of more-typical civil courts. Under the formula included in the 2009 law, for example, attorneys who successfully represent workers can receive fees equal to 20 percent of the first $5,000 in benefits obtained and 15 percent of the next $5,000 in benefits.

In a concurring opinion, Lewis described the attorney’s fees part of the workers’ compensation system as “emasculated” and pointed to the example of the $1.53 an hour in fees in the Castellanos case, which he wrote is “clearly unreasonable and insufficient to afford workers the ability to secure competent counsel.”

Read more here: https://goo.gl/J2jxHc

This article was written by senior attorney Brad Harris of Harris Federal Law Firm. You can contact him at Harris Federal law Firm (877) 226-2723 or mail@harrisfederal.com.