Florida Supreme Court to Decide on Attorney's Fees Case

The Florida Supreme Court recently heard arguments on a case that will have constitutional implications. The case in question regards whether the Florida Legislature can limit how much (in some cases) an attorney can collect from a personal injury case against the Florida state government.

In a typical personal injury case against the Florida state government or one of its agencies, how much a plaintiff or his attorney can collect is capped. This is due to a legal doctrine known as sovereign immunity that dates back to our English common law traditions. Under this doctrine a state government cannot be sued unless it grants permission to be sued. When a state grants permission it will heavily regulate how a lawsuit will proceed and what can happen in any given lawsuit.

Florida’s Sovereign immunity statute can be found in Florida Statutes 768.28. Under the provisions of that statute, the amount of damages a personal injury plaintiff can collect from the government is $200,000. And the maximum amount an attorney can collect from that is 25 percent of any judgement.

Why this Case is in Court

Despite the language of the Florida sovereign immunity statute, a tragic case from several years ago caused the lawyers for one victim to take their case to Florida’s Supreme Court. The reason this case ever made it this far is because the victim in this case suffered a terrible brain injury in 1997 due to the negligence of employees at a hospital owned by the state of Florida. The victim and his family hired an attorney to take on their case, and sue the hospital for the damages that resulted from the hospital’s negligence.

As part of their agreement to represent the boy, the attorneys in this case signed a contract that they would be paid a certain amount based on what they were able to recover. The case went to trial, and the jury returned a verdict for $28.3 million. Because of the cap on how much a victim can recover from the state, the award was limited to just $200,000.

This case continued because of an interesting exception Florida’s sovereign immunity cap rule. If a victim wins a victory in court for more than the capped amount, then that person can appeal to the Florida legislature and ask them to pass a special bill appropriating money that more nearly matches the actual verdict that was handed down. And that is exactly what this victim and his legal team did in this case, but when the legislature passed the bill after years of work, they also said that the attorneys were not entitled to more than $100,000 and stipulated that none of the funds be used for attorney’s fees.

Lower Court Strikes Down Petition

The attorneys in this case appealed this decision by filing a lawsuit. They lost their appeal in the 4th District Court of Appeals for Florida but the case now sits with the Florida Supreme Court. At least one judge had a warning should the case not be overturned and the attorneys allowed to collect the amount they agreed upon. The lone dissenting judge in the opinion warned that allowing the legislature to cap fees like this could hamper future cases on behalf of victims.

At The Pittman Firm, we are accident and injury attorneys that seek a just and fair result for all parties involved in a case. When someone is negligent and causes damages to someone else, they should be made to pay. Of course that would not happen if attorneys did not do the legwork and take the fight to the wrongdoers. That is what we do. If you have been injured in an accident, contact us.

See related blog posts: Florida Supreme Court Upholds $4.5 Million Verdict in Premises Liability Case; Florida Legislature Introduces Bill on Safety.

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