Florida Supreme Court Rules Limiting Attorney Fees in Workers’ Compensation Cases Unconstitutional

Workers' Compensation The Florida Supreme Court has finally ruled on the landmark case, Marvin Castellanos v. Next Door Company. This case argued that the claimant’s attorney fee schedule from the 2003 Florida Workers’ Compensation reforms was unconstitutional and kept claimants from due process.  The court ruled 4-3 that the attorney fee provision hindered an injured worker’s ability to acquire legal representation.  The entire case ruling can be found here.

What does this mean for employers and carriers?

  • All the attorneys who were sitting on workers’ compensation cases now will be filing with the Judge on Compensation Claims (JCC) for reasonable attorney’s fees. There will be an influx of litigation.
  • Any and all open claims will be affected by this decision. A strategic review of all open claims is a MUST.
  • Employers should not be surprised to see a rate increase. If you remember, the rates dropped over 60% due to the 2003 reforms.  Attorney’s fees attributed to a large portion of the lower rates.

The Florida Supreme Court still has the Bradley Westphal v. City of St. Petersburg case to rule on which has carriers and employers watching for more changes on the horizon. The Westphal case challenges the limit of temporary total benefits paid to claimants who have not reached physical maximum medical improvement, but at 104 weeks are considered to be at statutory maximum medical improvement (MMI).  Claimants are currently entitled to receive 104 weeks of temporary total benefits; then the benefits stop unless the claimant is considered permanently totally disabled (PTD).  There are criteria a claimant must meet to be considered PTD per the Florida Statutes.  Prior to the 2003 reform, if SSD accepted them, they were considered PTD for workers’ comp purposes also.  However, the threshold for PTD is much higher since the reform.

If Westphal were affirmed by the Florida Supreme Court, the number of weeks of temporary total benefits could be extended, but how many weeks is unknown.

For more information about this issue, please contact your Wallace Welch & Willingham agent.

Now more than ever, employers need a proactive and knowledgeable agency who knows about workers’ compensation claims.