February 2022

18 Florida Pool Prosm • February 2022 INSURANCE UPDATE Few things in Florida workers’ compensation have been a bigger issue over the last decade than claimants’ attorney fees. Despite two major 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, should give ammunition 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 more than $1 million in attorney fees 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. 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 number of hours invested. The case began in 2016, when the then 26-year-old Ambrocio fell from a roof while installing trusses. He struck his head, suffered a serious brain injury and now requires constant care, according to court records. An affidavit filed in the case shows that one of Ambrocio’s lawyers reported 54.8 hours of work on the case. His half of the fee comes to $503,625, which translates to about $9,190 per hour. The other attorney reported 168.35 hours, or about $2,991 per hour. The attorneys explained that the difficulty and complexity of the case, along with the skill level of the claimant’s lawyers, warrant the large dollar amount. By David Griffiths, Insurance by Ken Brown / dgriffiths@insbykenbrown.com The impact of attorney fees on Florida workers' compensation claims