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Attorney’s Fees in Florida Workers’ Compensation cases

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By Courtney C. Bahe

Can you believe the crazy changes we have seen this year with workers’ compensation attorney’s fees in Florida?  This new case is saying we do not have the guidelines with limitations that were imposed 15  years ago to reduce overall costs and industry premium hikes.  Where is this going to take us?  In Miles v. City of Edgewater Police Dept./Preferred Governmental Claims Solutions and State of Florida,  the Court held that a claimant has the right to contract with his or her attorney for a claimant-paid attorney fee.  The Court reasoned that a claimant has the right to choose whether or not to waive his or her constitutional right to statutory protections that limit claimant-paid attorney’s fees under §440.34, F.S.  In sum, the Judge of Compensation Claims may approve a retainer agreement between a claimant and his or her attorney for a claimant-paid fee.  The question that remains unanswered is how a Judge will determine the reasonableness of the fee without the restriction to a guideline fee based upon the value of benefits obtained.  Thus far, the Judges of Compensation Claims have provided varying feedback on how they will review the “reasonableness” of the fee above the guideline. There are some Judges that are approving the retainer agreements with no hesitation and others that are requiring the claimant’s attorneys to justify the higher attorney fee being requested.  There are industry professionals that are speculating that this will push the overall costs on claims even higher than the return to hourly attorney’s fees alone.  

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