Attorney fees in workers’ compensation cases are drastically increasing, according to newly released data from the Office of Judges of Compensation Claims (the Office).
Deputy Chief Judge David Langham presented the new findings during the Florida Chamber’s Capitol Days in Tallahassee.
Just as predicted after the Florida Supreme Court’s ruling in Castellanos v. Next Door Company, the 2016-2017 annual report by the Office shows that attorney fees for injured workers increased by 36 percent over the previous year, totaling $186 million. This amount is the highest in claimant attorney fees that have been paid in over a decade.
Hourly attorney fees jumped by nearly 200 percent- from $25.8 million prior to the court decision to $75 million after. The statutory attorney fee during the same time frame decreased 31 percent.
Adding to the figure is $254 million paid in the defense of workers’ compensation claims. Florida is one of the few states where the employer/carrier pays both defense and injured worker’ attorney fees.
The Florida Supreme Court issued the Castellanos decision in April 2016, which declared the current attorney fee structure unconstitutional. This resulted in a 14.5 percent, or $1.5 billion, increase on Florida job creators. Prior to the Castellanos decision, workers’ comp premiums had decreased by nearly 60 percent after the legislature passed Florida Chamber-backed reforms in 2003 to first address attorney fees.
The Florida House is expected to pass its workers’ comp bill, HB 7009 by Rep. Danny Burgess, later this week. The Senate has not filed major workers’ comp reforms for this session.
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