A few months ago, I wrote about the ethics involved in settling attorney’s fees with Claimant attorneys.  There is a lot of pressure to close cases, and sometimes a Claimant attorney will want to carve up a settlement to include a large side fee for benefits that were not obtained. 

In Lanza v. Damien Carpentry, I noted the First DCA is going to give the Judges of Compensation Claims latitude to determine whether Carrier paid fees are warranted.  In Lanza, the E/C refused to divide up the settlement so that Claimant attorney would receive a fee above the statutory guidelines for unobtained benefits.  Claimant attorney tried to back out of the settlement, but the JCC and the First DCA enforced the agreement.  At the time, I wrote:

From the ethical standpoint, I have to commend the E/C for refusing to cooperate with this “breakdown” which–let’s be honest–took money away from an injured worker to pay an undeserving fee.  While it is tempting for an E/C to go along with the stipulation just to close a file and move the matter along, it is not ethical and not in the best interests of either party to participate.

Now in Zaldivar v. Chabon, the First DCA sided with a JCC who refused to accept a motion for attorney’s fees when the Claimant attorney refused to provide  supporting evidence that the agreed upon $14,000 fee is within the statutory guidelines for benefits obtained.  After providing numerous opportunities (time extensions and status conferences) the JCC denied the motion.  The First DCA agreed with the JCC and noted the judge has authority to demand such evidence before approving the fee.  The JCC is not a mere rubber stamp for fee approvals.

While ethics is what prevents E/C’s from colluding with a Claimant attorney to get an undeserving fee, it now looks like the courts are the ones that will prevent this from happening.  Once again, while it is tempting to throw money at the claim and close our eyes (or hold our noses) over how much of the washout Claimant attorney will get, please note that the JCC will not approve these fees and your settlement could fly out the window. 

Bottomline: If you don’t owe a fee, do not agree to one just to close the file.

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