Earlier this year, Florida’s Supreme Court struck down two (2) significant provisions of the state’s workers’ compensation law. More specifically, a claimant’s constitutional right to hire legal counsel and the claimant’s attorney’s right to be paid a reasonable fee.
Previously, this law limited a claimant (an injured worker) from hiring an attorney unless there was strict adherence to statutory fees. In some cases this was not problematic; however, with the ever growing loss of benefits, due to statutory cutbacks, the prescribed fee guidelines made it ever so difficult to hire an experienced workers’ compensation attorney.
The insurance companies knew full-well that these restrictions on fees gave them a leg up on the claimants and at times, used them to their advantage. An example of this is as follows: suppose your authorized workers’ compensation doctor recommended you undergo an MRI to further diagnose your condition; that the cost of the MRI was $1,000; and the insurance carrier decided that the test wasn’t necessary and they declined payment. The claimant then decided to pursue his/her rights and attempted to secure an attorney only to be advised that the attorney would not accept the case, because the fee associated with that matter would be wholly inadequate. Why so, you might ask?
Because the previous statutory fee on that MRI at $1,000 would be $200 or twenty percent. It’s not that the twenty percent is inadequate in and of itself, but securing it may involve 8-10 hours of time. Thus the actual “earned” fee may amount to an hourly rate of some $20 – $25 per hour. Thus they could, even without a reasonable belief that they would be successful, merely deny the MRI because few if any attorneys would take on this case.
The Supreme Court saw through this unreasonable advantage and changed the playing field in order to protect the rights afforded by this law which was designed to provide quick and efficient benefits to Florida’s injured workers. Now you are permitted to engage a workers’ compensation attorney and not be limited by the prior restrictions. Also, your attorney can pursue a reasonable fee against the carrier when they unreasonably deny/delay benefits. Clearly, these changes benefit all concerned and are compliant with the intent of the law.
Given the aforementioned scenario and in light of the changes, here is a practical application: the employer carrier will now only deny the MRI if a truly good reason exists because their previously known risk of a $200 fee is no more. Now the claimant’s attorney can seek a reasonable fee from the employer carrier which may amount to more than $1,000. It no longer is a calculated risk. It’s a big gamble and insurance companies don’t like to gamble.
The other part of the changes affected by the court’s ruling(s) will give the claimant the opportunity to engage not only an attorney but a very experienced and/or board certified workers’ compensation attorney to handle their case. There is truth in the slogan, “You get what you pay for.” The insurance companies know and hire the best defense attorneys they can find, so why wouldn’t you? Workers’ compensation law is exceedingly complicated, problematic and not an arena for most attorneys.
We at Burnetti, P.A. have been representing injured workers for 20+ years, and the attorneys who represent our clients in this field are Florida Bar Board Certified. We look forward to your questions and the opportunity to serve you.
Burnetti, P.A. Attorney Larry Anzalone – Florida Bar Board Certified Workers’ Compensation since 1988