In two long-awaited decisions, the Florida Supreme Court declared several provisions of the state’s workers’ compensation statutes unconstitutional, weakening legislative reforms approved in 1994 and 2003 intended to curb the system’s growing costs and higher premiums for employers and businesses. The rulings, in Castellanos v. Next Door Company and Westphal v. City of St. Petersburg were released almost two years after the Court first heard oral arguments in the cases. The decisions struck down Florida laws that restricted the fees for claimants’ attorneys to a statutory formula tied to the benefits secured by the claimant and limited the recovery of benefits to 104 weeks for temporary total disability, respectively.
Castellanos v. Next Door Company
On April 28, 2016, the Florida Supreme Court held that the state’s strict adherence to its workers’ compensation statutory fee formula for the award of fees to claimant’s attorneys was an unconstitutional violation of both state and federal due process rights.
Castellanos was heard by the Supreme Court after lower courts upheld the award of $164.54 for 107.2 hours of legal work performed by claimant’s counsel, even though those courts found that the legal work performed was reasonably necessary to secure the claimant’s workers’ compensation benefits. The actual amount of benefits secured was $822.70, resulting in a fee for the claimant’s attorney of $1.53 per hour. However, the Court found the claimant in Castellanos had no avenue to challenge the reasonableness of the $1.53 hourly rate under the statute, even when it determined that his attorney had to dedicate significant time and effort in pursuing the case and refuting numerous defenses raised by the employer and its carrier.