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Workers' Comp Rights: A Recent Win for Injured Victims!

Transcript of Video Blog:

Good morning, and welcome to this week’s edition of our video blog. I’m Marcus Michles joined today by Brian Carter, a partner in this firm and head of the…what do we call it…the Workers’ Comp/ Social Security Division?   That’s your kingdom? That’s the kingdom. Yeah. Are you the lord of that kingdom? I am for the moment.

Welcome to Michles & Booth’s video blog. We got some interesting news to talk about today, and the reason Brian is here is to help us all understand a recent 1st District Court of Appeals decision, the Miles decision, which as I understand it, we’ve talked about it, Brian. We both read it does a great service to Florida consumers, particularly from the workers’ comp standpoint. Although at first blush, it may not appear so, but what it does is it allows an injured worker to contract freely and openly with the most qualified or the most talented lawyer they can and allows them to work out what the fee arrangement or the reimbursement to the attorney’s going to be.

Just to set the table, and I’ll turn it over to you…in fact I was surprised to read this. I’m kind of embarrassed to say this. I was surprised to read that it’s actually a crime. Yeah.   In the statute, it’s a crime for a lawyer to charge a reasonable fee, or in other words, a fee above and beyond the Florida scheduled reimbursement fee for an attorney. It’s a crime for an attorney to do that. It’s a crime for a citizen to contract with an attorney to do that, which is bizarre to me, but the First District has said “Look…it’s a first amendment freedom. It’s a first amendment right for a consumer to openly contract for a fair fee, in both of their eyes obviously, to do a job which is very, very difficult to do against very difficult odds.” It’s something that you do every day.

Well, it’s actually been an inconsistent crime, because for years even though the statue has limited attorney fee reimbursement rates that only applied to the injured worker who was seeking representation. A defense attorney representing an insurance company could charge whatever hourly rate that the market would sustain, increasing those as the years went on and cost of living increases changed. And they were free to do that.

Well you’re a fair-minded guy. I’m older, and I’m not so. I’m just going to come out and say that it’s a grossly unfair system. It always has been. The workers compensation system, and I don’t practice it; you fight in those trenches every day, but it’s set up for the claimants to fight an uphill battle all the way to get the benefits they deserve. The statute prevents good lawyers, get paid to do the work, then the lawyers aren’t going to do that work. Well… And you decided you’re just going do it anyways.

Yeah, we’ve made…you know, when I first came here almost eight years ago now, we made a commitment that we wanted to stay in the game. We wanted to help the injured workers the community, realizing and hoping that this day may come; that we might be able to have viable business. I mean the reality for every business owner is that you can only stay in the business offering your services to the consumer if you can financially make money.

Well, as a new partner in this law firm, you’re an owner of this business, and you know better than everybody what it takes to stay in business, what the bottom line is, what the overhead is and what makes sense.

Right. In our business, if I handle a car accident case or a contingency fee case, if I handle that case and I get a one-third fee, that’s a whole lot different than handling that same case doing the same amount of work, doing that same daily day-in and day-out work, and making a fraction of that as my fee.

And it was a fraction.

I have had numerous clients over the past eight years who were shocked at the fee reimbursement rate and asked me “how do you make money off of that?” and a lot of them felt bad.

The reality is that it’s been really hard, but we’ve you know fought on, prevailed; we’ve waited. We’ve hoped. You know, I’m not going to lie. I work really, really hard to try and make a living, and be able to be an asset to our business and still represent the individual worker.

So I’ve used this analogy before, and it sounds a little primitive and a little silly, but I like it.   The ideas is…I like it, too…the idea is that if a consumer wants a hamburger, and they got a dollar in their pocket, they can buy a hamburger at McDonald’s or checkers, and that hamburger might be delicious. It might not, but it’s up to them, or you can go to McGuire’s and you can pay $10 for a hamburger. Now they’re both hamburgers, but they’re not the same. Now you can argue all day long whether the McDonald’s hamburger is worth $1, and you can argue whether the McGuire’s hamburger is worth $10, but the bottom line to me is that the consumer gets to make the choice. Correct. The person decides “hey, I want to go to McDonalds and grab this dollar hamburger” or “you know what? Today I want a really special burger. It’s really important to me. This injury that I sustained on the job that’s impacted my ability to earn a living and support my family is really, really important to me, and I want to buy the $10 lawyer as opposed to the $1 lawyer”. I believe, this is just Marcus talking, but I believe that’s a no-brainer. That’s a choice that the consumer can make knowing full well what the upside and downside is. If they choose to buy the dollar hamburger, that’s fine. That’s fine. That’s where they are. They got a dollar in their pocket, and they want a dollar hamburger, but at this law firm, paralegals don’t meet with the client initially. Paralegals don’t fill out the forms. Our lawyers do that,and you do that, and it’s a service and quality of a hamburger that’s a little different than what you get in other places. You may decide as the consumer that’s not what you want. You may decide that’s not for you, but that’s a choice you the consumer must have, I think.

Well, I would agree, and you know my fear for the injured worker right now is there’s going to be a lot of different attorneys, new attorneys – not necessarily new to the practice but new workers’ compensation – that are going to see this as a money-making opportunity, which again, there’s nothing wrong with. If all of a sudden, everybody wants a hamburger, you see a lot more hamburger shops going up, but that doesn’t mean that they know how to make a good hamburger. It doesn’t mean that they understand the intricacies and the requirements that this particular practice requires. It’s a statutory-driven practice area. There’s changes constantly. There’s a lot of nuances. It’s very obvious to somebody that’s been practicing fifteen years when there’s an attorney who doesn’t understand workers compensation. That worries me about the individual worker.

And that’s the argument that goes to having lawyers licensed across the board. I used to make the argument that lawyers ought to be licensed or unlicensed, like electricians like auto mechanics. It’s like “Listen. If you want to get a quality job, go to a servicing licensed provider. If you want to cut a corner, you should have that right, too. I think if you want to have your next-door neighbor wire your ceiling fan, you know, ok. If it catches on fire, then you made a bad choice. You should have gotten a licensed electrician to put that ceiling fan up. That’s…that’s…that’s the way the market should be, in my opinion. It’s a free market.

In the workers comp area, it’s been regulated and restricted and unnaturally messed with for years and years and years. It’s time to allow the consumer to say, “I want Brian Carter, because he’s got fifteen years of doing nothing but this. He’s established in this community. I can ask anybody about if he’s going to do a quality job for me, and it’s important enough for me to pay for his services. That’s it. That’s the analysis from my stance.

Well, I agree. You know, there’s going be a lot of people who left workers’ compensation trying to get back in and you’re free to go to them. You know, and I encourage that. I tell all my clients “don’t just talk to me; go talk to anybody”. Whether it’s the experience of the attorney, the relationship of the individual, the way that you communicate, all of those things are really important, but at the end of the day, you want to know that you’re getting the $10 hamburger. Yeah. I mean you want to know. You don’t want to pay $10 for a $1 hamburger. So, you need to vet the people that you’re talking to. Look them up on the Internet. Ask them about their background and experience. All of that is very important, and as a consumer, you the right to ask those questions, and if somebody is not willing to sit down with you, or as you said, you don’t even get to meet the attorney face-to-face that is going to be representing you, you may not want to pay $10 for that hamburger. Right.

And I do…I mean you mentioned it. I pride myself sitting down with every single person that walks in, whether they’ve signed, you know, whether they sign up and not. That doesn’t matter. We give them that face-to-face time, want them to have a chance not only to meet us but ask questions, and there’s some people that leave. They decide that they don’t…either don’t need an attorney or they don’t want my particular services, and that’s ok. You know, we’re here to offer the services. We believe in what we do. We believe in what we can accomplish for them, and we’ve been fighting without interruption for the injured worker.

And let’s face it; we make a pretty good hamburger. I think so! I got it…I got some special spices. It’s a recipe you won’t share. Yeah… I do not share that recipe. There’s people that sometimes call asking about it, but it’s unique to us, and I think we do a good job.

Good. Well, for those of you that have questions or want to get some more information on the subject or where it’s stands specifically, give me a call. Give Brian a call. You can call us here at Michles & Booth or go to ForTheVictim’s.com/blog. You can find our installments.

If you got any questions, comments or suggestions of things that you want to hear, just give us a call. I’m Marcus Michles along with Brian Carter. We’ll see you next week.

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