Discharged Attorneys Have Recourse in Workers Compensation Claims through Florida’s Quantum Meruit Rule
The First District Court of Appeal recently issued a decision in Salzman v. Reyes, 41 Fla. L. Weekly D1930 (Fla. Aug. 18, 2016), which discussed the level of discretion the Judge of Compensation Claims has in determining both the entitlement and amount of a quantum meruit attorney’s fee. Quantum meruit permits an attorney subject to a premature discharge by the client to recover the reasonable value of his services in fixed and contingency employment contracts.
In Salzman, Salzman represented Reyes, the claimant, in a workers compensation matter. Despite obtaining a settlement offer from Reyes’ employer, Reyes rejected the offer, terminated Salzman and hired another attorney to represent him in the matter. The successor attorney eventually negotiated a settlement that Reyes accepted. After his termination, Salzman filed a notice of lien arguing entitlement to a quantum meruit attorney’s fee.
To resolve Salzman’s claim to attorney’s fees, Reyes, his new attorney and Salzman entered into a joint stipulation establishing a reasonable fee to satisfy Salzman’s lien. Salzman also filed a verified motion to determine the amount of the fee, which included descriptions of the services provided to Reyes. Reyes responded to the motion claiming quantum meruit should determine the fee since Mr. Salzman represented Mr. Reyes on a contingency basis, and the proposed amount agreed to in the joint stipulation was reasonable.
After hearing arguments on the matter, the Judge of Compensation Claims denied the stipulated quantum meruit fee, citing Mr. Salzman’s failure to carry his burden in explaining the reason for his termination and his entitlement to an attorney’s fee.
On appeal, the First District held that as a general rule, the Judge of Compensation Claims can reject a stipulation if it is not supported by competent, substantial evidence. However, if the stipulation is not tainted by fraud, overreaching, misrepresentation, or some other event that would void the agreement, then the stipulation should be reviewed and decided upon accordingly. With respect to Salzman, the First District found that the Judge of Compensation Claims failed to identify an additional basis to reject the stipulation beyond Mr. Salzman’s inability to support the statements made in the stipulation. Moreover, there was no competent, substantial evidence to disprove the parties’ stipulation that Mr. Salzman was entitled to a quantum meruit fee.