Florida Supreme Court Hears Oral Arguments in Controversial Workers’ Comp Attorney Fee Case


Tallahassee, FL (CompNewsNetwork) - The Florida Supreme Court heard oral arguments yesterday, April 9, 2008, in the case Murray v. Mariner, SC07-244. This case involves the constitutionality of the Workers’ Compensation Attorney Fee Statute, F.S.440.34(3)


The 2003 Amendments to the Florida Workers’ Compensation Act had several major changes, one of the most controversial being FS § 440.34 which establishes guideline attorney fees.


Based on that law, the sole statutory basis for determining the amount of an attorney’s fee except in the case of “medical benefits only” claims, is the value of the benefits secured on behalf of the claimant. The JCC is prohibited from approving any agreement which provides for an attorney’s fee in excess of the guideline fee. Prior to the 10/1/03 amendments, a JCC had the discretion to deviate from the statutory guideline fee when the fee would be “manifestly unfair”


CompNewsNetwork readers may view the entire 56 minute appeal here.


In this case, the claimant, Ms. Murray, a nurse's assistant, was injured while helping lift a patient and had to undergo a hysterectomy and other surgical procedures. The case was denied by the carrier after the injured worker’s gynecologist opined that preexisting conditions predisposed the worker to a prolapse. After a hearing at which witnesses testified and evidence was presented, the Judge of Compensation Claims awarded her the requested benefits. Her lawyer then applied for attorney fees, seeking $16,880. However, the JCC found that a 2003 state law limited the fee that could be paid to $648. The First District Court of Appeal upheld the JCC.


In this appeal, Plaintiff argues the 2003 law was either misapplied or, if not, violates constitutional rights to equal protection, due process and access to the courts. Mariner Health and Ace American Insurance Co. argue caps on attorney fees are not unconstitutional and are even found in the Florida Constitution. 


During Oral Arguments, several Justices questioned whether it was truly a constitutional issue or an ambiguity in the statutes due to the word "reasonable" being in sections (1) and (3) of F.S. 440.34. The Justices are taking the case under advisement. 





Additional Documents:

Video of Full Appeal Session

Emma Murray v Mariner Health/ACE USA (1st DCA December 1 2006)

Directive from Supreme Court April 17, 2007

Petitioner’s Initial Brief on Jurisdiction – Bill McCabe, Esq, 5/2007

Respondent’s Brief on Jurisdiction – John R. Darin II, Esq, 5/2007

Supreme Court Docket Case Number SC07-244 

Petitioners Initial Brief on Merits, December 2007 

A nswer Brief Of Mariner Health/Ace American Insurance Company, January 2008

Amended Petitioner's Reply Brief, February, 2008 

Transcript of Oral Arguments


Briefs of Amicus Curiae In support of Petitioner:  

Briefs  of Amicus Curiae In support of Respondent :  
Zenith Insurance Company

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