Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Redundant Costs?

A recent case on costs made some interesting reading. The Court in Coleman v. American Airlines settled a point that may have been seen as ambiguous by some.

Costs are an important topic in many workers' compensation cases in Florida. In the changes to the statute in 2003, the Legislature changed the taxation of costs statute. It used to allow taxation of costs by injured workers when they prevailed in a claim against the employer. The statute now affords that ability to a "prevailing party" against any other party. There have been a fair number of motions to tax costs filed by employer/carriers seeking reimbursement from unsuccessful claimants.

Coleman v. American Airlines is one of those cost taxation cases, in which the judge awarded the employer/carrier $2,645.70 in taxable costs. The court has previously ruled that such an award to the "prevailing party is mandatory." (Citation omitted).

The Coleman Court noted that the award of costs "is generally reviewed for abuse of discretion." Applying that test, the Court concluded that the reasonable costs would include the "cost for the original and one copy" of deposition transcripts, but would not include the additional $150.00 charged for "condensed versions of the deposition transcripts which was incurred in addition to . . .."

In the age of the digital PDF and the mandatory e-filing requirements of the statute, the question regarding the cost of even a copy may one day be raised. In the "old days" a copy made a lot of sense, because the original would be sent to the Judge as evidence in a case. The party filing that original would need a copy for preparation for trial and ready reference during trial. Paper was simply the way things were done. In the electronic filing paradigm, the "original" can be scanned and e-filed. That leaves the original paper document in the party's hands for use in preparation or for ready-reference during trial. 

In the digital age of the Twenty-First Century, we see many attorneys abandoning paper for their personal uses also. I attended a CLE program that detailed how an attorney tried a civil case recently with all of her/his materials and documents in PDF form on an electronic tablet (a "paperless" trial). This was seen as incomprehensible to several attorneys with whom I spoke at that seminar, but it appears some attorneys are in the "no paper" mindset. That may be driven by the expense and bulk associated with paper, or with the perceived benefits of having documents that can be readily searched for a term or phrase using software. 

Therefore, it is possible that some might see any paper copy as redundant in some future context. It is difficult to predict where the technology of today is taking us, and how it may change our worlds.

For now, however, there is clarity on the expense represented by condensed copies, or perhaps anything beyond the original and first copy (as the Court says "a third copy of the deposition"). The Court's logic seems less to do with the condensed nature in this case than with the redundant nature. 

The Florida Rules of Civil Procedure include the Statewide Uniform Guidelines for the Taxation of Costs in Civil Matters. To what extent these may control or influence workers' compensation cost claims is subject to the interpretation. Rule 60Q-6.24(3)(e) says "The Statewide Uniform Guidelines for Taxation of Costs in Civil Actions shall be considered by the judge in determining the reasonableness of an award of cost reimbursement." Thus, it appears that the Guidelines will be considered in such disputes. 

The Court in Coleman v. American Airlines did not cite the Guidelines. The Guidelines, however, specifically address costs associated with depositions. In section I.A.1., it provides that "litigation costs that should be taxed" include "[t]he original and one copy of the deposition and court reporter per diem for all depositions."

It appears that the outcome might be similar either under the analysis of the Coleman Court or the Guidelines. Both are interesting reading. 


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