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Florida Appellate Attorneys Win Reversal of Trial Court’s Final Order in First District Court of Appeals

Fort Lauderdale attorneys Erika A. Dalton and Lynne M. Wilkerson recently were awarded the right to present disputed workers’ compensation claim to an Expert Medical Advisor in appellate victory, delivering a favorable result for an international facility management client. The original workers’ compensation claim was filed with the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings in the Miami District. Employer/Carrier’s proceeded to trial on two key issues – a primary issue and a contingent secondary issue.

The primary issue was whether the Claimant’s attorney had violated the Florida Rules of Professional Conduct when they communicated a request for a one-time change doctor only to the represented defendant, and not to Erika Dalton, as their attorney of record As a result, the Employer/Carrier refused to authorize the Claimant’s choice of physician, however the Claimant began treating with him regardless.

This gave rise to the secondary issue – whether the Court should appoint an Expert Medical Advisor to resolve the disputes between the Claimant’s original authorized treating doctor and the one-time change doctor, who did not agree on the Claimant’s diagnosis, causation, treatment recommendations, or ability to return to work.

In an effort to preserve the Employer/Carrier’s right to seek an Expert Medical Advisor (EMA), Litchfield Cavo attorneys filed and attended evidentiary hearings on a Motion to Strike the One Time Change Request due to Rules of Professional Conduct violations. Although the Judge’s order following the evidentiary hearing found that the Claimant’s attorney had in fact conducted his request in a manner inconsistent with the Florida Rules of Professional Conduct, our attorneys’ pre-trial motions were denied as premature, thereby pushing the matter to trial.

Litchfield Cavo attorney Lynne Wilkerson wrote the Initial and Reply Briefs on appeal, asserting that the request for EMA was well-founded in evidence and procedurally proper. The First District Court of Appeals agreed. In the appellate order, the  District Court of Appeals recognized that the defense’s five separate requests for EMA had “well-preserved” this contingent argument. Therefore, the Judge of Compensation Claims’ (JCC) failure to address the EMA request after rejecting the first argument was reversible error. The First District Court of Appeals concluded with a broad reversal of nearly all benefits awarded by the JCC and remanded the case back to the trial court for appointment of an EMA based upon “the record conflict” that the JCC had accepted into evidence at the Final Hearing.

As a result of Erika and Lynne’s solid defense strategies, our international facility management client and it’s insurer were awarded a reversal of an award of surgery, extensive indemnity or “lost wages” benefits that had accrued for the past two years and continuing indefinitely, as well as all other medical costs related to the one-time change provider’s plan of care over the course of her lifetime that had the potential to exceed hundreds of thousands of dollars. Further, the request for our facility management company to pay the Employer/Carrier attorneys’ fees and costs on appeal was denied by the First District Court of Appeals as a result of the Litchfield Cavo attorneys’ successful procuring of the reversal on appeal.

Erika focuses her practice on defending employers/carriers against workers’ compensation claims. While earning her law degree at St. Thomas University School of Law, She gained valuable experience while a law clerk for the Florida Office of the Attorney General where she assisted with preparing an appellate brief that was selected to come before the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit oral arguments. She has additional experience as a research assistant where she examined matters related to the Florida Constitution.

Lynne focuses her practice on defending employers and insurance carriers against workers’ compensation claims. She gained litigation experience while working as a public defender at the Twentieth Judicial Circuit of Florida. During this time, she also researched and wrote three appellate briefs. While earning her law degree at the International University College of Law, Lynne interned at the Miami-Dade Public Defenders Office and also worked as a law clerk for a private defense law firm focusing on federal criminal and civil cases.