Upcoming Workers’ Compensation Decision Could Have Effects on Access to Courts for all Injured Victims

If you have been injured as a result of someone else’s negligence, it’s likely that you can find an attorney to take your case, regardless of your financial situation. That’s because unlike many areas, in personal injury, attorneys are often paid on contingency. That means that you don’t pay them until and unless you win or settle your case.

Contingency fee arrangements serve an important role for Florida consumers—they ensure access to courts. Someone who is injured does not have to worry about paying $100-$400 per hour for a qualified attorney, ensuring that even those with limited financial means can still hire the best attorneys in the state to represent them.

But an upcoming Florida Supreme Court case could put this fee system in jeopardy. It’s a case that Florida consumers should take an interest in.

Florida Supreme Court to Hear Attorneys Fee Case

The case is Castellanos v. Next Door Company, and although it is a workers’ compensation case, it could have an effect on general personal injury cases as well.

In workers compensation laws, attorney’s fees are capped at 20% of the first $5,000 awarded, 15% of the second $15,000 and 10% of amounts above.

In getting their client benefits against a particularly obstinate insurance company, the attorneys for the injured worker worked for 107.2 hours, an amount that both sides agreed was reasonable. This was to obtain a total award for the client of $822.70.

Citing the statutory requirements, the court awarded the attorneys only $164.54 in attorneys fees. This equates to $1.53 per hour—unreasonable no matter what line of work you’re in.

The claimants attorneys have now challenged the workers’ compensation attorney’s fee limits to the Florida Supreme Court, calling them unconstitutional.

The Workers’ Compensation Trade-Off

Many years ago, the legislature took away injured workers’ access to courts, forbidding them from bringing normal negligence actions against their employers. In return however, the legislature presumably made it easier for workers to get benefits regardless of negligence of the employer. In other words, the system was intended to trade the time, legal issues and expense of a traditional injury suit, for a quick, expedient process that quickly and fully compensated injured workers.

The claimant’s attorneys will be arguing to the Florida Supreme Court that restricting attorney’s fees makes it harder for injured claimants to find attorneys to represent them. Thus, the trade-off is, in fact, not a fair trade at all. Restricting the ability of injured workers to find attorneys by limiting attorney’s fees in effect restricts them from pursuing benefits at all when the insurance company doesn’t pay or cuts off benefits (which is often).Thus, the workers are left with no recourse under workers’ compensation or under general negligence claims.

Standard personal injury cases don’t have such restrictions on attorney fees. But should the Florida Supreme Court deem the workers’ compensation fee restriction constitutional, it’s not unlikely that it would open the door for an insurance lobbying group to try to pass such restrictions on general injury cases in the future, making the case one worth watching for everyone.

If you’ve been injured on the job or off, get help today. Talk to the Miami personal injury attorneys at Gerson & Schwartz, P.A. today for a free consultation about your injury case.


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