As expected, a decision by the State Industrial Commission that would force workmen's compensation insurance carriers to pay attorney fees in addition to the benefits paid to an injured person has been appealed to the Utah Court of Appeals.
Attorney Jinks Dabney asked the appeals court to review the case of client Stanley Lou Harrison, Vernal, the man who filed a claim for workmen's compensation benefits after his benefits were cut off by the Workmen's Compensation Fund, because the administrative law judge refused to award additional attorney fees.James R. Black and Kevin M. McDonough, attorneys for the Workmen's Compensation Fund, appealed the 2-1 State Industrial Commission decision that said any attorney fees in workmen's compensation cases must be over and above any benefits awarded to the injured worker.
For many years, the attorney fees have been deducted from the benefits an injured person received.
While the case is being considered by the appeals judges, the commission is accepting comments on a general rule about the additional attorney fees, something that Commission Chairman Stephen M. Hadley feels is "putting the cart before the horse."
Hadley feels the appeals court must rule on the issues because there is a possibility the case will go the Utah Supreme Court no matter how the appeals court rules. He believes the commission doesn't have the authority to draft a rule on the attorney fees issue and any changes should rest with the Legislature.
The commission has tentatively scheduled a meeting for June 15 to talk about the comments on a general rule on the additional attorney fees and could hold another meeting to discuss a specific rule, if any is proposed.
Another issue to be decided by the appeals judges centers on orders issued by Hadley or fellow Commissioner John Florez following the April 27 decision in Harrison's case, which upheld a decision by administrative law judge Gilbert A. Martinez.
Florez and former Commissioner Lenice L. Nielsen voted to uphold Martinez's decision that called for attorney fees to be paid in addition to the regular benefits, and Hadley voted against. Shortly after the decision became public and was the subject of a May 4 commission meeting, Nielsen retired.
Attorneys for the Workmen's Compensation Fund asked the commission to reconsider its action, but with Nielsen gone, Florez didn't have the backing to uphold the 2-1 vote and signed an order denying the review request.
Claiming the law gives the "agency head" the authority to rule in such matters, Hadley signed an order rescinding Florez's order and granted the motion for review. Meanwhile, Thomas R. Carlson has been sworn in as the third commissioner replacing Nielsen, and nobody seems to know what action will come next now the commission has three members.
On Nov. 16, 1982, Harrison was working for Olympus Oil Co. and severely injured his knee. Harrison received some benefits, but when he asked for a second operation, the Workmen's Compensation Fund cut off his benefits and Harrison was forced to hire Dabney in an attempt to get them restored.
Martinez ruled on Nov. 10, 1987, that Harrison be awarded the benefits and medical expenses, but on Nov. 16, Dabney filed a motion for reconsideration, claiming there was a miscalculation in the attorney fees.