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Reasonable Legal Fees for Florida's Injured Workers

Why is Castellanos v. Next Door Co, et al. an important case to injured workers in Florida? It is important because Florida's injured workers deserve to be represented by competent, effective, experienced lawyers to protect themselves and their families. Workers' compensation debuted in Florida effective June of 1935.

(A history of the development of workers' compensation in Florida may be found here: http://www.myfloridacfo.com/division/wc/InfoFaqs/history.htm.) Six years later, Florida changed the law to provide reasonable fees to be paid to injured workers' lawyers in the event the injured worker prevailed in a dispute with the employer's workers' compensation carrier. The trade off, at that point, was that workers' compensation carriers were insulated from the bad faith provision of the insurance code. The thought was carriers would logically follow the law if, otherwise, they'd be on the hook for paying reasonable fees to the workers' lawyers.

In 2003, Florida's workers' compensation law was substantially amended. Changes to Florida Statute Section 440.34 eliminated many references to "reasonable" attorney's fees. Additional references to "reasonable fees" were removed from the law in 2009. Since then, most judicial interpretations have permitted fees adopting a literal, mathematical application of the law. The law provides a percentage fee, depending on amount and timing, ranging from 5% to 20% of the benefits collected. Mr. Castellanos, the injured worker in the pending case mentioned above, hired an attorney to pursue his wrongfully denied benefits. He prevailed, collected $822.70, and, per the statutory fee schedule, secured an award of fees payable by the carrier to his lawyer in the amount of $164.54. This, per the statutory schedule, resulted in his attorney being paid $1.53 per hour for his 107 hours of work. Clearly, no lawyer could sustain a practice helping injured workers while being paid less than $2.00 per hour to do so.

It is reasonable to wonder why lawyers don't simply charge a reasonable fee to their clients who are injured workers. The answer is any fee must be approved by an administrative hearing officer/judge of compensation claims, who is bound by the section above. The Florida Supreme Court will, hopefully, soon address the constitutionality of this limiting, mathematical formula. I take pride in representing injured workers in Florida. The Florida Bar has approved me as a Board Certified Specialist in Workers' Compensation matters since 2003. Learn more about my qualifications here /Attorneys/Matthew-E-Romanik/.

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