October 2008

If you think that judges sit in their legal ivory towers, above the political fray, you are blissfully naive.  Case in point: one day after the Florida Supreme Court rolled back the Claimant attorney fee cap in Workers Comp, the First DCA (the lower appellate court with sole jurisdiction on all W/C appeals) releases a new opinion reinforcing the Employer/Carrier’s right to tax costs onto Claimant. 

From this decision, its apparent the First DCA knew what the outcome of Emma Murray was and were not exactly keen on it.


The Emma Murray decision finally arrived today and, as expected, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Claimant and found that a Judge can determine reasonable hourly attorney fees for Claimant attorneys.  The ramifications of this are huge, to say the least.  But, there are still some unanswered questions regarding fee entitlement for medical only claims.   You can read the decision here

First, let’s dive into what the five justices (Wells, Quince, Pariente, Anstead, and Lewis) write about. . .


Many of us in the Workers’ Comp world believe that we are alone in the legal universe.  W/C is so strange that there can be no other realm of the law similar.  Yet, the Supreme Court recently ruled on a case that has very similar parallels to the pending Emma Murray decision.

For capital murder cases, a defendant can choose a private attorney to represent them and have the state pay for it.  Since the public defender is paid by the state, like the judge and the prosecutor, an argument for a conflict of interest can arrive, so Florida pays private attorneys to take such cases.   The private attorney submits her hours in a fee petition to a judge for approval.  The prosecutor can object to the hours and costs if they feel the time is cumulative, irrelevant, or excessive.   

Sound familiar?


If you want proof showing the political divide between the Florida Supreme Court and the First DCA, then Sanders v. City of Orlando is Exhibit “A”. 

In what is best described as a oddly worded opinion, and which Justice Quince writes for the majority, the High Court grants jurisdiction to the Judge of Compensation Claims to review settlement agreements, even though the statute no longer requires JCC’s to approve settlements.   Since amended in 2001, section 440.20 only requires the JCC to consider the fairness of Claimant’s attorney fees and child support arrearage.   Under today’s law, the JCC’s no longer approve settlements.