Last year, the Florida Supreme Court took on two major issues pertaining to the state’s workers’ compensation program, in both cases handing a victory to injured workers. However, now business industry lobbyists are pushing for workers’ compensation reforms that will undercut those victories.
As Capitol News Service reports, the Florida Chamber of Commerce President was quoted as saying there is a big price tag on the horizon if workers’ compensation law in Florida isn’t “fixed.” He added that based on the Florida Supreme Court’s decisions in favor of workers, “There’s a one and a half billion dollar tax increase on jobs in Florida.” This, he said, is going to cut into the creation of new jobs.
But what this overlooks is the fact that the previous system was inherently unfair to workers – and the attorneys who took up their cases. Specifically, the chamber president is referring to the case of Castellanos v. Next Door Company, which was decided last April. That case involved the constitutionality of the mandatory fee schedule for plaintiff attorneys in workers’ compensation cases, set forth in F.S. 440.34. The court ruled that the mandatory fee schedule creates a presumption that can’t be rebutted as to whether an attorney’s compensation is in fact reasonable, which in turn violates both the state and federal Constitutions as a violation of due process.
This provision unfairly burdened attorneys for workers, which in turn made it more difficult for workers to secure quality representation. In the case at issues, an injured worker who was denied compensation for his work injury claim hired an attorney who worked more than 107 hours on the case. As a result, the attorney eventually won, but based on the fee structure, which only allowed attorneys to secure 15 percent of the value of the claim, this attorney was paid $1.53 an hour for his work – a payment the judge of compensation claims held to be justified based on the law. Justices for Florida’s First District Court of Appeal affirmed, but certified the question to the Florida Supreme Court about whether an attorney had the right to a reasonable fee.
The state supreme court ruled that without the right to an attorney with a reasonable fee, the state’s workers’ compensation law could not assure the quick and efficient deliver of disability and medical benefits to injured workers, which ran contrary to the legislative intent. Here, the award of $1.53 an hour was found to be “patently unreasonable,” and the case remanded for an entry as to a reasonable attorney fee.
Bear in mind: The law did not have this same kind of cap on attorney fees for employers or workers’ compensation insurance companies. They were always paid at rate that would be considered more than reasonable. That meant the deck had been unfairly stacked against workers. Now that this inequality has been corrected, it will result in some increase in fees for companies that are required to cover reasonable attorney fees for injured workers who prevail in their Florida workers’ compensation cases. But rather than understanding this to have righted a wrong, the chamber and other lobbyists are viewing it as an issue that must be “fixed.”
The chamber has put on its main page a notice that states, “Job Creators Beware,” urging them to sign a petition for legislative action on this issue to “remedy” this issue that will increase workers’ compensation insurance rates. They argue that this action is necessary to “put injured workers first.” That’s questionable given what this action seeks to accomplish.
Call Associates and Bruce L. Scheiner, Attorneys for the Injured, at 1-800-646-1210.
Business pushed Workers Comp reform after court rulings, Jan. 12, 2017, By Mike Vasilinda, Capitol News Service
More Blog Entries:
Gilliam v. Immel – Proof of Damages Key in Injury Lawsuit, Jan. 31, 2017, Fort Myers Construction Accident Lawyer Blog