Lee Engineering & Const. Co. v. Fellows, 36523

Decision Date10 April 1968
Docket NumberNo. 36523,36523
Citation209 So.2d 454
PartiesLEE ENGINEERING & CONSTRUCTION COMPANY and Hartford Accident & Indemnity Company, Petitioners, v. Fred FELLOWS and the Florida Industrial Commission, Respondents.
CourtFlorida Supreme Court

B C. Pyle, of Whittaker, Pyle & Wood, Orlando, for petitioners.

B. T. Miller, of Rogers, Towers, Bailey, Jones & Gay, Jacksonville, for Fred Fellows.

Patrick H. Mears and Robert E. Ray, Tallahassee, for Florida Industrial Commission.

Warren C. Rose and Richard A. Sicking, Miami, as amici curiae.

ROBERTS, Justice.

This is a petition for writ of certiorari from the Florida Industrial Commission which affirmed, except for the allowance of two expert witnesses' fees, an order of the Deputy Commissioner (now Judge of Industrial Claims) awarding compensation benefits.

The cause was heard by the Full Commission upon the application of the employer and carrier, petitioners here, and on cross-application of the respondent, Fred Fellows. Claimant had been awarded payment of compensation for temporary partial disability, permanent total disability, beginning November 20, 1961, with a credit to the employer and carrier for all subsequent payments made prior to the entry of the order, an attorneys' fee of $7200.00 and payment of expert witness fees to attorneys who testified in regard to attorneys' fees. The Commission affirmed the Deputy Commissioner on all points except for the award of expert witness fees to the attorneys. The Commission modified the order of the Deputy by striking the award of these expert witness fees for the reason that in its opinion the statutes do not authorize such payments, reasoning that attorneys are officers of the court and that it is inherent in the implication of Canon 12, Canons of Professional Ethics, 32 F.S.A., that one attorney should testify on behalf of his brother attorney without remuneration. Cf. Robert & Company Associates v. Zabawczuk (Fla.1967), 200 So.2d 802.

We agreed after an examination of the record that there is competent substantial evidence which accords with logic and reason to support the Deputy Commissioner's findings of fact, conclusions and application of law, except as to the award of expert witness fees to attorneys and the award of fees to claimant's attorneys. We therefore would have denied certiorari, except as to attorneys' fees, and affirmed the order of the Commission. However, the question of whether attorneys' fees are excessive recurs so often that we requested oral argument on the question of the $7200.00 attorneys' fees and also requested two attorneys--one generally representing management, and one generally representing claimants--to give us the benefit of their opinion by appearing at a hearing and submitting briefs as amici curiae. The Florida Industrial Commission requested to be heard and submitted a brief on the question of the impact of stipulations.

After hearing these arguments and studying the excellent briefs we feel compelled to make the following observations.

The Workmen's Compensation Act was originally passed as administrative legislation to be simple, expeditious, and inexpensive so that the injured employee, his family, or society generally, would be relieved of the economic stress resulting from work-connected injuries, and place the burden on the industry which caused the injury. J. J. Murphy & Son, Inc. v. Gibbs (1962), Fla., 137 So.2d 553; Port Everglades Terminal Co. v. Canty (1960), Fla., 120 So.2d 596. It was contemplated that relief would be immediately forthcoming as a substitute for the wages of the working man and that little, if any, delay or long deliberation would ensue. The Act 'was pitched on the theory that the claimant could litigate his own cause' but the original intention of the Act has not been practical in many instances and perhaps some of the deviations may be attributable to the award of attorneys' fees in such amounts that representation of claimants has become a lucrative law practice on both sides of the controversies. The tendency to award fees in excess of those contemplated by the Act or even by the fee schedule adopted by the Florida Industrial Commission, may be attributed, in part, to the fact that in Florida the employer or carrier pays the claimant's attorneys' fees and they are not deducted from the claimant's award. Florida is one of the few states which have this requirement. One salutary effect of substantial fees being awarded has been that in this state we have been able to build up a strong bar for both employment and management although this in itself will not justify excessive fees. We recognize that inequitable abuse of any benefit often results in destroying the source of such benefits, Tampa Aluminum Products Company v. Watts (1961), Fla., 132 So.2d 414, but it is obvious that fees should not be so low that capable attorneys will not be attracted, nor so high as to impair the compensation program. Larson, Workmen's Compensation Law, Volume 2, Section 83.

The question as to the impact of a stipulation granting to a Deputy the power to fix a fee without evidence impelled the attorney for the Florida Industrial Commission to request permission to submit a brief and argue his points. In urging the continued allowance of stipulations on attorneys' fees he presented the following facts:--

'In 1966 the judges handled 21,468 cases. Out of these 21,468 cases the judges entered 10,498 orders. In 7,140 of the 10,498 Orders entered, attorneys' fees were awarded. If, in each of these cases, there were required live expert testimony or affidavits to be submitted as to the award of a reasonable attorney's fee, there would be an intolerable burden placed upon the judges and the Commission in the administration of this law.'

After studying the various briefs and citations, and reviewing our previous cases, and hearing arguments relative thereto, we feel that stipulations as to the amount of attorneys' fees by the parties concerned serve a useful purpose in the expeditious administration of the compensation law.

Where there is such a stipulation it should be mentioned in the findings of fact of the trial judge and given due weight by the reviewing authorities. The judge is usually in a position to determine a reasonable attorney's fee but we do not believe that stipulations of this kind should absolutely control, despite what might have been said in previous cases. A...

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  • Schafler v. Fairway Park Condominium Ass'n
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Southern District of Florida
    • 13 Mayo 2004
    ...the Florida Supreme Court has never specifically held that such expert testimony is required. Rather, in Lee Eng'g & Constr. Co. v. Fellows, 209 So.2d 454, 457 (Fla.1968), the court stated that in the absence of a stipulation to the amount of fees, the burden is on the movant "... to show, ......
  • Castellanos v. Next Door Co.
    • United States
    • Florida Supreme Court
    • 28 Abril 2016
    ...adopted the workers' compensation law to provide “simple, expeditious” relief to the injured worker. Lee Eng'g & Constr. Co. v. Fellows, 209 So.2d 454, 456 (Fla.1968). As an integral part of that goal from 1941 until 2009, the Legislature provided for an award of a reasonable attorney's fee......
  • Fawaz v. Florida Polymers
    • United States
    • Florida District Court of Appeals
    • 13 Julio 1993
    ...compensation to employees who sustain injuries arising out of and in the course of their employment. E.g., Lee Eng'g & Constr. Co. v. Fellows, 209 So.2d 454 (Fla.1968); Port Everglades Terminal Co. v. Canty, 120 So.2d 596 (Fla.1960); Blount v. State Road Dep't, 87 So.2d 507, 512 (Fla.1956) ......
  • Jacobson v. Se. Pers. Leasing, Inc.
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    ...fee agreement must nonetheless, like all fees for Florida attorneys, comport with the factors set forth in Lee Engineering & Construction Co. v. Fellows, 209 So.2d 454, 458 (Fla.1968), and codified in the Rules Regulating the Florida Bar at rule 4–1.5(b). REVERSED and REMANDED for further p......
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