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House committee approves contingency fee multiplier bill

By Arek Sarkissian
January 31, 2020

The House Judiciary Committee approved a bill that would limit fees awarded to lawyers in property insurance cases, matching a similar measure moving through the Senate.

The panel today approved committee bill FL PCB JDC 20-03 with a 13-5 vote. The measure now ascends to full-fledged bill status and will be sponsored by state Rep. Mike Beltran (R-Lithia). The bill is similar to FL SB914 (20R), by state Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg), which seeks to eliminate fee multipliers.

Plaintiff lawyers use fee multipliers to calculate billing in contingency cases, which are typically paid by defendants, often insurance companies. The multipliers can sometimes cause legal bills to exceed the monetary damages awarded to plaintiffs.

“It exceeds the justification of receiving competent counsel,” Florida Justice Reform Institute lawyer Aram Megerian said during the meeting.

Jeffrey Carter, a member of the Florida Justice Association, which represents trial lawyers, said the method of calculation assures that a plaintiff can afford sufficient legal representation in cases where the opponent is a wealthy insurance carrier.

“You pay for a promise, and they haven’t been paid on that promise and made whole,” Carter said.

The U.S. Supreme Court has twice ruled that lawyers should be awarded contingency fees only under “rare and exceptional” circumstances. The 2017 state high court ruling from 2017 called those circumstances unfair to lawyers.

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