Michael D. Rudolph, Appellant v. Darien Smith, The Home Depot U.S.A., Inc., and Liberty Mutual Insurance Company, Appellees; 1st District Court of Appeal; No. 1D2022-1627; Decision date: Jan. 24, 2024

Claimant attorney’s appeal of judge of compensation claims’ order denying a statutory fee on settlement overturned by First District Court of Appeal and held to be reasonable.

This case involves a complex 1993 date of accident and a claimant who is a ventilator-dependent quadriplegic. Prior to being represented by Michael Rudolph, the claimant had five other attorneys. The indemnity portion of the claim settled in 1995. Then in 2018, following a ten-day mediation, Mr. Rudolph secured a settlement of the medical portion for $13.5 million.

The claimant and his attorney petitioned the judge of compensation claims to award attorney’s fees to all six attorneys for a total of $1,330,000, which is $695,750 lower than the statutory guideline amount of 9.85% (and accounted for 5.9% of the overall settlement). Out of that amount, Mr. Rudolph resolved the liens of all prior counsel. Note that the statutory formula at the time was 25% of the first $5,000, 20% of the next $5,000 and 15% of any remaining.

The judge of compensation claims took issue with the fee asserted by Mr. Rudolph and reduced it from $805,000 to $123,000. The First District Court of Appeal held that, while the judge had discretion to deviate from the statutory sliding scale, he should do so only in “exceptional circumstances” where the presumptive amount under the formula is “manifestly unfair.” Alderman v. Florida Plastering, 805 So. 2d 1097, 1100 (Fla. 1st DCA 2002).

The court went on to say that the judge should not have been hyper-focused on converting the fee to determine an hourly rate based on time spent when the contingent fee arrangement inherent in the statute is deemed as presumptively fair. They also pointed out that the fee requested was substantially less than the statutory formula. 


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