Florida Supreme Court strikes down workers comp fee law
From The News Service of Florida:
In a major ruling, the Florida Supreme Court on Thursday said that a state law limiting attorney's fees in workers-compensation insurance cases is unconstitutional.
The 5-2 ruling in the closely watched case was a victory for attorneys who represent injured workers --- and a blow to business groups that have long argued legal fees drive up the costs of workers-compensation insurance. The fee issue will bounce back to the Legislature, where it could spark a fierce debate.
Justice Barbara Pariente, writing for the court's majority, said the 2009 law is a violation of due-process rights under the Florida Constitution and the U.S. Constitution because it prevents challenges to the "reasonableness" of attorney's fees awarded in workers-compensation cases. The ruling stemmed from a case in which an attorney was awarded the equivalent of $1.53 an hour in successfully pursuing a claim for benefits for a worker injured in Miami.
Pariente wrote that the goal of the workers-compensation system is to quickly provide benefits to get injured people back on the job at a reasonable cost to employers.
"This case, and many others like it, demonstrate that despite the stated goal, oftentimes the worker experiences delay and resistance either by the employer or the (insurance) carrier,'' wrote Pariente, who was joined in the majority by Chief Justice Jorge Labarga and justices R. Fred Lewis, Peggy Quince and James E.C. Perry. "Without the likelihood of an adequate attorney's fee award, there is little disincentive for a carrier to deny benefits or to raise multiple defenses, as was done here."