Now that we’ve had time to digest the shock wave of Castellanos (and the current increase of claims), I can analyze where this decision came from and why the Court decided this way.  [See my initial analysis here.]

Its quite clear going back to Emma Murray, that the Supremes were concerned with the role of the JCC.  Since the 2003 changes, the Legislature has done everything to control what and how the JCC decides claims.  From, dictating the amount of IME’s each party gets, to formulating mental injury claims, to attorney fees, the Legislature intent has been to standardize the JCC’s decisions.

A key to the unconstitutional ruling was the fact that 440.34 created an “irrebuttable presumption” that no matter the calculation when applying the fee schedule, it would always be reasonable.  This of course is a fallacy when looking at the facts of Castellanos: his attorney spent 107 hours winning a very complicated case and ended up getting paid $1.52/hour.

In the Court’s analysis, the Supremes finally ruled that fees are penalties against E/C’s to keep them honest and provided deserved benefits to Claimants.  Further, like Emma Murray, the Supremes felt the best protector of a Claimant’s interest in benefits is the JCC to weigh in on whether an attorney’s fee is reasonable or not.

This is an empowering move on the Court to take power of the allocation of not just fees but benefits too from the Legislature and put it back into the hands of the JCC.  The Lee Engineering standard (founded in Florida Bar Rule 4-1.5) allows the Judge to weigh the reasonableness of a fee.  The JCC still must start with a fee schedule calculation and weight it against the hourly fee.  The Supremes defending this ruling by advocating the Lee Engineering standard also protects E/C’s from excessive fees.  But, the JCC must utilize it.

In the end, the Supremes saw that the Legislature cannot take away the authority of the JCC to review a fee. . . it frustrates the purpose of the W/C scheme.

One could take this theory and apply it across the board to any section of chapter 440 where the 2003 changes limited the involvement of the JCC.   The days of the JCC simply punching buttons are over.

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