Monday, December 19, 2005

Last year, state voters approved Amendment 3, which places strict limits on the contingency fees that lawyers earn from representing people who sue doctors, hospitals and other healthcare providers for malpractice. But lawyers have found a way to sidestep the cap: They ask clients to waive their rights under the amendment, allowing the attorneys to collect higher fees.
Doctors responded by asking the court to change the ethical rules that all lawyers in Florida must abide by, and both sides went before the court two weeks ago. Justices expressed skepticism that the court could prohibit anyone from waiving their constitutional rights. But several justices also said that there should be some safeguards to guarantee that medical malpractice victims are aware of their rights.
The order on Wednesday says it is not a final ruling in the case, but it sends a strong signal as to how the court will eventually rule. Justices said that the new rules developed by the Florida Bar must ''include a procedure'' where medical malpractice victims can free their attorney from the fee caps.

Here is text of the Supreme Court Order. Here's a link to the Academy of Florida Trial Lawyers page, with links to other neat stuff for lawyer and quasi-lawyer geeks, like oral arguments, briefs and the like.

One must understand that the effort to cap attorney's fees does not help the average person, it hurts them profoundly. If a lawyer must limit his fees to an arbitrarily low figure, while still having to finance a case often well into the six figures, then that puts an incredibly chilling effect on the ability of malpractice victims to hire a lawyer. The doctors and Big Insurance haven't been able to win the day on substance, so they are trying to achieve the same goal through the back door. If a client can't get a lawyer, they won't file suit. No lawsuit, no insurance exposure. Pernicious, but not surprising.