Gov. Charlie Crist should veto legislation that would harm Floridians seeking fair workers’ compensation payments, the St. Petersburg Times wrote in a May 18 editorial. The Times opposes Florida’s HB 903, legislation that reestablishes a cap on payment to attorneys in Florida workers’ compensation lawsuits. That cap sets compensation very low — in some cases, only slightly above Florida’s minimum wage. This would make it financially unwise for many lawyers, who run small businesses and often have six-figure student loan debt, to take workers’ compensation cases. And that, the editorial said, would hurt injured workers further by making it nearly impossible for them to get help in these legally and medically complex cases.
The legislation is a response to last year’s Florida Supreme Court decision in Murray v. Mariner Health — a decision I wrote about at the time. In that case, a nurse was forced to sue after she was wrongly denied workers’ compensation for an injury related to lifting a patient. She won her case, but under the formula established by the 2003 workers’ compensation “reform” law, her attorney was awarded just $8.11 an hour in fees. The Supreme Court unanimously found that this violated the law’s own requirement that fees be “reasonable” and overturned it, giving Florida judges the discretion to adjust fee awards upward or downward when necessary. Both that decision and the Times editorial noted that the attorneys for the insurance companies continued to get appropriate fees, like the $150 an hour paid in the Murray case.
As a Fort Lauderdale workers’ compensation attorney, I agree wholeheartedly with the Times. Of course, I would prefer to be able to take these cases for a reasonable fee — but the real losers if this bill passes would be people who are injured at work. I can choose whether to take a workers’ compensation case, but workers cannot choose not to be injured. Without a lawyer, they have a choice between representing themselves — tricky even in simple cases, which workers’ compensation cases are not — and giving up. Some such workers end up using public assistance programs to get health care or make ends meet, socking taxpayers with a burden that workers’ compensation insurance is supposed to bear. Worse, the situation creates an incentive for insurers to deny valid claims, knowing that the worker’s chances of overturning the decision are low.
Workers’ compensation law is complicated, involving medical, legal, insurance, workplace safety and sometimes union issues. If you have been injured at work, you have the legal right to claim workers’ compensation benefits, which include payment of all your medical bills as well as replacement wages of two-thirds your normal salary. But workers’ compensation benefits are expensive, and some insurers would rather leave hurt workers on their own than pay what they owe. If this happens to you, you should call our firm, Cohn, Smith & Cohn, as soon as possible for help. We can represent you throughout the appeals process, up to and including filing a Miami workers’ compensation lawsuit when necessary.
To learn more about your options at a free, confidential consultation, please contact Cohn, Smith & Cohn online or call us today at (954) 431-8100.