Few things in Florida workers’ compensation have been a bigger issue over the last decade than claimants’ attorneys’ fees. Despite two landmark appeals court rulings barring limits on fees, employers and insurers have continued to cite the need for new legislation.
A recent settlement, approved by an Orlando-based judge of compensation claims, could give new voice to those who want fee restraints. The settlement came in December 2020, but only this month caught the attention of some in the workers’ comp community.
In the case of a catastrophically brain-injured worker named Esdras Ambrocio, the settlement granted a near-record amount of fees – more than $1 million on a $3.9 million total award. The fee was split between two claimants’ attorneys. For one, the payment would translate to an eye-popping $9,100 per hour.
The fee is just over 25% of the total settlement amount and is well above what’s recommended by the fee guidelines in state law, insurance attorneys complained.
“I find it mildly outrageous,” one workers’ comp defense attorney said. “There was minimal litigation involved in this case, it looks like.”
Million-dollar attorney fees in comp cases are rare, but not unheard of. Some are the result of decades of work. What makes this one stand out is that it covered just five years of legal work, with a relatively small amount of hours invested. Even some claimants’ attorneys were surprised.
“That’s a big fee for five years of work,” said Laurence Leavy, a Fort Lauderdale comp attorney who has received a number of large fees – but most of them for cases that were litigated over 30 years or more.
A former Florida judge noted that the Ambrocio settlement was “perfectly legal” and was something the guardian for the injured worker had agreed to.