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Blockbuster Decision by the Florida Supreme Court on Workers’ Compensation Attorneys Fees

The Florida Supreme Court entered a blockbuster decision on October 23, 2008 on the Florida workers’ compensation attorney’s fees provisions of the 2003 Florida workers’ compensation statute in Emma Murray v. Mariner Health, 33 Fla. L. Weekly S845.  Click to read the decision. The decision is important to all Florida first responders!

The Florida legislature amended the attorney fee provisions of 440.34 five years ago and tried to limit the payment of the workers’ compensation attorneys. Florida workers compensation attorneys, like Nancy Cavey, were paid attorneys fees if they successfully obtained workers’ compensation benefits at the expense of the Florida workers’ compensation carrier based on one of two methods of calculation. The first method allowed a workers compensation hearing attorney to be paid based on the hours they worked on medical or money benefits they got for the injured Florida worker. The other method was to pay the workers’ compensation attorney, a percentage, based on the value of the benefit secured. In other words, if a workers’ compensation lawyer like Nancy Cavey, obtained the payment of a cardiac catheterization, which cost $2000, her fee would be 10% of $2000 or $200. If she spent 10 hours getting that benefit, Nancy Cavey would be paid $200 an hour or $2000.

The Florida legislature attempted to limit attorneys fees to the value of benefit secured. Obviously, a workers compensation attorney would find it very difficult to practice and pay bills if the fees were limited to the value of benefits secured. As a practical matter, many workers’ compensation attorneys left the practice. Tampa Bay workers’ compensation attorney, Nancy Cavey, continued to represent Florida workers with valid claims for medical or compensation benefits

The Murray decision made it clear  at the Florida legislature had not properly defined “reasonable attorneys fee” in a 2003 legislation. The court found that Florida  workers’ compensation attorneys should be paid based on hours worked and not benefits secured. This is a great decision for the injured workers and First Responders of Florida!