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Return to Reasonableness

Keith R. Gaudioso

On April 28, 2016, in a case of great significance to injured workers in Florida, the
Florida Supreme Court ruled in Castellanos v. Next Door Company, 192 So. 3d 431 (Fla. 2016)
that the state’s mandatory attorney fee schedule was unconstitutional in workers’ compensation
cases under both the Florida Constitution and the U.S. Constitution as a violation of due process.
The previous attorney fee caps were connected to legislation in 2003 that not only made
changes to the attorney fees provisions limiting the fees to certain percentages, but additionally
made changes to the remunerations to which injured workers were entitled. As a result, many
injured employees were left to fend for themselves in the complicated world of workers’
compensation without effective representation. In the 2008 case of Murray v. Mariner, 994 So.
2d 1051 (Fla. 2008), the Florida Supreme Court attempted to alleviate the issue by interpreting
the statute to provide for a “reasonable” award of attorney’s fees, allowing lawyers to be
compensated in sums that surpassed the allowable caps.
In 2009, however, the Florida Legislature amended the statute to remove the “as
reasonable” language from the attorney fee provision. This permitted attorneys to merely obtain
a “statutory fee” for benefits obtained for their clients without consideration for the
reasonableness of that attorney’s fee. Without the right to a quality attorney who charged a fair
rate, injured workers with legitimate workers compensation claims were at the mercy of the
employers and their insurance companies and could find themselves in situations where they
were unable to challenge unjustifiable denials of their claims.

Mr. Castellanos’ case is a perfect example of the imbalance created by the statutory fee
schedule. His attorney worked 107.20 hours in attempting to secure necessary medical
treatment, lost wages and other benefits for Mr. Castellanos. During the course of the
proceedings, Mr. Castel lanos’ attorney drafted motions, filed documents and pleadings, and
attended hearings and mediations. However, under Florida’s statutory fee schedule, the Mr.
Castellanos’ attorney was entitled to merely $1.53 per hour, receiving a total of $164.01 for
107.20 hours of legal work!
The court explained that the Workers’ Compensation system was set up for the injured
workers’ benefit. The system ‘s goals are to, ” provide the quick and efficient delivery of
di sability and medical benefits to an injured worker.” Section 440.015 Fla. Stat. (2009). In
finding the mandatory fee schedule to be unconstitutional, the court observed that the workers’
compensation law has grown too complex for the average worker to navigate on his or her own
and that attorney intervention is necessary to ensure the quick delivery of medical and lost wage
benefits. An attorney cannot file petitions, draft pleadings and attend hearings without a
reasonable fee to ensure the injured worker receives the best work product possible.
After Castellanos, attorneys representing injured workers in Florida wi ll once agaIl1
receive a reasonable rate of compensation for efforts expended on behalf of their clients,
ensuring that Florida’s workers wi ll receive their day in court and a fair opportunity to present
their claims.

© Hall, Lamb, Hall & Leto, P.A. 2017. All rights reserved.