November 4, 2008

The Florida Supreme Court recently established a fairer playing field for workers injured on the job in Florida.  In Emma Murray v. Mariner’s Health, a case decided by the Florida Supreme Court on October 23, 2008, the Court struck down a portion of a 2003 Florida Statute that limited attorney’s fees for attorney’s representing injured workers.

Florida Statute section 440.34, revised in 2003 by the Florida Legislature, imposed severe restrictions on the amount of attorney’s fees an attorney representing an injured worker could earn.  The statue continued to allow an insurance company to pay its attorneys to investigate, contest and delay injured workers claims, without any limitations or restrictions on the amount it paid them.  However, if an insurance company wanted to contest a workers compensation claim, the attorney representing the injured worker had a very limited ability to be paid for the work, thus limiting an injured workers ability to find a workers compensation attorney that was willing to see a case through to the final hearing if necessary.

The Supreme Court decided that an ambiguity in the Statute was to be decided in favor of allowing a “reasonable” attorney’s fee, rather than one limited by the Statute.  By allowing a reasonable attorney’s fee, insurance companies can now be held responsible for wrongfully failing to provide the medical care and wage benefits they are required to provide under Florida’s Workers Compensation statutes (Chapter 440, Florida Statutes).  A Court can now award an attorney’s fee, to be paid by the insurance company, based upon the number of hours spent fighting over medical care or wage benefits that were not provided.

It is expected that the workers compensation insurance companies and business lobbyists will attempt to have the legislature re-write the Statute to further limit attorney’s fees for attorney’s representing injured workers during the next legislative session.  Doing so would be a severe blow to injured workers around the State who would have difficulty finding an attorney to handle their case.  But for now, injured workers have a level playing field again at least in terms of being represented by an experienced workers compensation attorney.


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