JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – After well-known Florida attorney John Morgan announced a ballot drive aimed at gradually raising Florida’s minimum wage to $15 an hour, questions have been swirling about whether he would benefit from the proposal.
The concern: When it comes to lawsuits in which people sue for lost wages, will they be awarded more money if they make a higher minimum wage? Consider a worker currently making $10 an hour is in a car crash and sues for lost wages. A client suing for years or a lifetime of lost wages could make a lot more cash in a settlement.
So if Florida’s minimum wage workers get a raise, will Morgan get one too?
In all types of lawsuits -- medical malpractice, car crashes and workplace injuries -- people sue for lost wages. Many times those people make minimum wage or close to it. So if they get a bump to $15 an hour, they can sue for a lot more. Attorney Rod Sullivan said, as a result, trial lawyers would make more money from each minimum wage earning client.
"The first $1 million, the fee is generally 40 percent of that recovery," Sullivan explained. "So they’re going to make about 40 percent of that increase."
Sullivan said a hypothetical 19-year-old making minimum wage, which is currently $8.46 an hour, would get more money if he made $15 an hour. Sullivan estimates he could get as much as $480,000 more in a settlement with the higher wage, and an attorney billing 40 percent gets $192,000 of that. Not all cases would pay that much, but there is money to be made.
"I ran a calculation. There are programs available where you can calculate the value of future lost wages," Sullivan said. "So I made a few assumptions. First of all, the injured worker is 19. Second, they stay at minimum wage, plus inflation, for the rest of their life and that they work until the age of 70."
Morgan, who said Tuesday he is moving ahead with a ballot drive aimed at gradually raising Florida’s minimum wage to $15 an hour, calls himself a compassionate capitalist. He said the minimum wage proposal will actually cost his firm, Morgan & Morgan, money because it would be giving employees who now make less than $15 an hour a raise.
"I am in the business of making money and I want to make a lot of money. I’m not ashamed of that. I believe I’m going to make more money by treating my people fairer, paying them more, treating them with respect, giving them more respect. And I believe my profits will skyrocket," Morgan said. "All the charities that we give money to as a family, I believe if this passes, that the good that my family and my firm can do will be the greatest of my whole life."
News4Jax asked Morgan's office whether the proposal is a precursor to him running for a political office in coming years, but has not yet heard back.