Keep in mind that this post refers to Claimant paid fees, not the Employer/Carrier paid fees that we have been obsessing over with the Emma Murray decision.  But, since this is in the same neighborhood of section 440.34, there parallels between the two Claimant attorney based fees are going to be made.  And, the recent case of Demedrano v. Labor Finders will undoubtedly push forth a new debate about Claimant attorney fees.

In Demedrano, Claimant attorney sought a fee not from the Employer/Carrier but from his own client.   In this case, Claimant settled his overall claim with the Employer/Carrier as a washout.  Claimant’s attorney sought a statutory fee and legal costs based on the amount of the washout and calculated by sections 440.20(11) and 440.34(1).  So far, so normal.  The kink in this case was that Claimant attorney wanted to include paralegal time as “costs.”  Paralegal time usually runs between $50-$75/hour, depending on which jurisdiction you are in.

Since the Judge of Compensation Claims must approve Claimant’s attorneys fees and costs taken from a washout settlement, the JCC in this case ruled that paralegal time cannot be considered as “costs.”  Paralegal time is the same as attorney time, therefore must be considered within the same fee schedule. 

What does this mean for Employer/Carriers?  While the Demedrano decision only encompasses Claimant paid guideline fees, an argument can be made that this case applies to Employer/Carrier fees.  Should a Claimant attorney agree to a statutory fee but seeking for paralegal fees as costs, an argument can be made that Demedrano prevents that. 

Another ramification of this case, a more indirect one, could be how Claimant attorney’s approach settlement negotiations.  If a Claimant attorney cannot charge his paralegal fees to his client as costs, then I am sure he will be looking for it from the Employer/Carrier in the form of higher washout demands.   A higher gross settlement agreement equals higher statutory fees.