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Comp claimants attorney improperly awarded legal fee ‘multiplier’: Court


A trial judge improperly applied a contingency fee multiplier that resulted in increased attorneys fees awarded to a claimant’s lawyer in a workers compensation case, a Florida appellate court ruled Friday.

The District Court of Appeal of Florida reversed a lower court decision that had awarded $14,310 in claimants legal fees in a lawsuit brought by Carlos Vargas IV against Foot & Ankle Center of Florida LLC.

Mr. Vargas, a workers comp claimant, sued over claims that the center placed an illegitimate lien on his workers comp settlement proceeds after a center physician treated him for a work related injury. Mr. Vargas was later granted summary judgment on his claims.

In subsequent proceedings, Mr. Vargas argued that he was entitled to enhanced attorneys fees, and the trial judge agreed, finding that the contingency risk multiplier incentivizes “effective counsel to undertake the representation of plaintiffs in these cases,” since comp claimants may otherwise be unable to afford legal representation, the appellate ruling states.

The appeals judges said the imposition of the contingency fee multiplier was improper because the trial judge failed to look at the “relevant market or whether any local lawyers would have agreed to take Vargas’s case without a multiplier.”

In reversing, the appellate court remanded the case to the trial judge to enter a judgment that does not include the application of a contingency fee multiplier in calculating claimants lawyer fees.