Should lawyers represent a severely injured child from birth and have limits to what they can be paid?

Recently, the Fourth District Court of Appeal asked the Florida Supreme Court to take up an argument about the constitutionality of a 2012 legislative move that limited fees paid to attorneys who represented a child severely injured at birth. Specifically, the court asked the Supreme Court to resolve the constitutional issue, a legal step known as certifying a question. The three-judge panel  in July upheld the fee limit, which was included in a legislative “claim” bill for the injured child, Aaron Edwards.   A Lee County jury determined in 2007 that health system employees were responsible for Edwards’ cerebral palsy and awarded the family nearly $31 million. But the state’s “sovereign immunity” protections — a legal principle based on English common law that “the king can do no wrong” — for the public health system capped judgments at the time at $200,000 unless the Legislature intervened. (The cap in such cases was later raised to $300,000). Lawmakers did so in 2012, ordering the health system to pay the family a lump sum of $10 million, and an additional $1 million for each of the following five years. Lee Memorial has so far paid out $13 million. At the same time, the Legislature limited payment to the lawyers, who had been working with the family on this case since 1999. Why  did they challenge the outcome? Searcy Denney Scarola Barnhart & Shipley, the plaintiff’s law firm,  originally negotiated a 40 percent contingency fee, but  the legislature’s bill limited the firm’s fees to $100,000. The firm petitioned a guardianship court to award it $2.5 million, applying a 25 percent cap in state law to the $10 million not put into a special needs trust for Edwards. It argued that the legislature’s fees order was an unconstitutional impairment of their contract with the Edwards family. It said it had put more than 7,000 hours into the case and lobbying for the legislative bill and incurred $500,000 in costs. The guardianship court ruled that it lacked authority to change the fee. In July, a divided Fourth District Court of Appeal upheld that ruling. Dissenting Chief Appeals Court Judge Cory Ciklin argued that these fee limits would make it impossible for plaintiffs like Edwards to find an attorney. The law firm asked the court to reconsider
If you would like to read the opinion of the 4th District Court of Appeal, click here:

Leave a Reply