Florida Appellate Court Allows Workers More Options In Workers’ Compensation Disputes
In a win for Florida workers, a three-judge panel of appeals judges ruled that employees who are dissatisfied with the current options to challenge the workers’ compensation system now have another option. Officer Martha Miles and the police union challenged her employer and insurance carrier in a battle to allow her to hire and retain legal representation with a retainer and hourly fees.
What was at Issue?
The issue revolves around lawyer’s fees, which have exacting regulations with regard to workers’ compensation. Hourly rates and retainers have been barred, leaving lawyers to work only on a contingency basis. This was a problem for Miles, whose case was complex and, many feared, potentially unwinnable. Lawyers working on a contingency basis might shy away from the labor-intensive suit.
Details of the Case
The Miles dispute revolved around the ability of Miles and her union, the Fraternal Order of Police, and their desire to hire legal representation as they challenged Edgewater city and their insurance carrier.
Officer Miles claimed to suffer from on-the-job injuries related to exposure to methamphetamine production. Edgewater City and their insurance carrier disagreed with her claim that her injuries stemmed from work activity. Miles therefore dismissed the original petition, and, with the aid of the Fraternal Order of Police Union, contracted for legal representation under a shared fee agreement. After a convoluted journey through the courts, and an initial finding against Miles, the appeals court ruled the statutory guidelines to be unconstitutional, giving Miles the right to proceed.
Why Such Stringent Rules?
Proponents of the rate/fee ban contend that it is one key way to keep workers’ compensation costs down. Disputes are handled outside the civil court system, with the intent of moving cases quickly, assisting injured employers, and getting them back on the job quickly. Unfortunately, it does not always work to the benefit of injured workers.
The Appellate Decision
The court found that it is unconstitutional to prohibit individuals and their unions from paying and retaining legal counsel. Inasmuch as the First Amendment establishes the right to free speech and to petition the government for redress, the court found that disallowing legal fees interfered with those guarantees, in that complex cases might be rejected by lawyers at the onset. Although the court recognized the challenges in keeping costs down in the workers’ compensation system, it found that forbidding workers from hiring legal representation outside the current contingency-fee structure was not a legal remedy. When considering injured workers, the finding held that the “intellectual prerogative to personally weigh the benefits and risk of exercising their statutory right to obtain redress for their injury…” outweighs any desire the legislature might have to minimize financial dings to the system or disruptions to the workplace.
What does the Ruling Mean for Florida Workers?
As a worker with an unusually complex case that many lawyers might otherwise be reluctant to handle, a route for legal representation is now available.
You do not have to go it alone. Schedule your consultation with the experienced Tampa lawyers at Barbas, Nunez, Sanders, Butler & Hovsepian today We can help, regardless of the complexity of the case.