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Court Sides With Law Firm In ‘Claim Dispute’


Pointing to a recent Florida Supreme Court decision, a South Florida appeals court Wednesday sided with a law firm in a dispute related to the Legislature's attempt to limit legal fees in “claim” bills.

A panel of the 4th District Court of Appeal ruled in favor of the firm Grossman Roth, P.A., which represented Kristi Mellen in a medical-malpractice lawsuit against the North Broward Hospital District about the 2008 death of her husband, Michael Munson.

The hospital district agreed to settle the case for $3 million, but only paid $200,000 because of the state's sovereign-immunity laws, which generally shield government agencies from paying out large amounts in lawsuits.

The Legislature in 2012 passed a claim bill directing the hospital district to pay the remaining $2.8 million. Lawmakers, however, included a provision in the bill that limited the amount that could be paid in legal and lobbying fees to $290,000.

The Grossman Roth firm argued it was entitled to a larger amount under an agreement with Mellen, and an additional $410,000 was put in escrow until the issue could be resolved, according to Wednesday's ruling. A circuit judge ruled in favor of Mellen receiving the money, but the appeals court overturned that decision. It cited a January ruling by the Florida Supreme Court that found a similar fee cap in a 2012 claim bill unconstitutional.

“We find merit in the law firm's first argument on appeal, that the trial court erred in upholding a provision of a claims bill limiting the law firm's contingency fee,” said Wednesday's ruling, written by appeals-court Chief Judge Cory Ciklin and joined by judges Martha Warner and Carole Taylor. “The Legislature's claims bill provision is an unconstitutional impairment of the fee agreement between the parties, and we reverse.”