The Florida Supreme Court is slated to hear oral arguments today over the state’s claim bill process, and whether lawmakers have the right to undercut personal injury lawyer contingency fee agreements in awarding damages to plaintiffs injured by government entities.
In Searcy, Denny, Scarola, Barnhart & Shipley v. State of Florida, attorneys are appealing the refusal of the guardianship of the court to authorize $2.5 million in attorney fees to the firms involved in the litigation of a medical malpractice lawsuit. As it now stands, those firms are only collectively slated to receive $100,000.
Of course, we understand that sounds like a great deal of money. However, consider first of all that we’re talking about a catastrophic brain injury that was suffered by a baby in 1997 at a Fort Myers hospital. The family, alleging negligence by the hospital staff, secured legal counsel by entering into a contingency fee agreement that provided for an attorney fee of 40 percent of any recovery of a lawsuit that was filed, plus costs. The case finally went to trial in 2007. Jurors awarded $31 million to the family. But, because Florida law limits damages against government entities, that amount was slashed to just $200,000. The family had to petition legislators to pass a law that would award them damages more in line with their actual losses. Finally, in 2012, a claims bill was passed that directed Lee Memorial Health System to pay $15 million in damages, with $5 million of that payable in annual installments to a special trust for the care of the minor. But the bill stipulated: No more than $100,000 could be paid in attorney’s fees. Continue reading →