The sides already have been chosen.
It's the employers and insurance carriers against employees and attorneys who represent people before the State Industrial Commission in workmen's compensation cases.The subject is whether or not attorneys fees in workmen's compensation cases should be paid over and above the benefits the worker receives. A recent commission ruling changed the tradition that attorneys fees be paid out of the benefits a complaining worker received.
The 2-1 decision ruled that any benefits received by Stanley Lou Harrison, Vernal, who suffered a knee injury while working for Olympus Oil Co., would not be reduced by any attorney fees. The decision was complicated because former Commissioner Lenice L. Nielsen resigned shortly before several defendants asked the commission to reconsider its action.
Because of the ruling, the commission is considering adopting a rule that would back up its decision regarding the payment of attorney fees over and above what benefits a worker receives. Although the status of the case is in limbo because the case has been appealed to the Utah Court of Appeals, the commission has been receiving comments.
As expected, those applauding the decision say an injured worker doesn't receive enough money as it. They also say the decision would reduce the number of cases that are litigated before the commission.
On the other side, employers and insurance companies carrying the workmen's compensation insurance for employers say the decision will result in more litigated cases before the commission; the commission doesn't have the authority to consider a rule on this subject; and the Legislature should be the final authority.
In his letter to the commission, attorney Raymond Scott Berry of Salt Lake City outlined a fee schedule for attorneys in workmen's compensation cases including 20 percent of the benefits generated for the first $15,000; 15 percent of the benefits generated in excess of $15,000, but not exceeding $30,000; and 10 percent of the benefits in excess of $30,000.
He suggested that a retainer in advance of attorneys fee award be prohibited and in no instance shall an attorney fee be less than $500.
Gayle Dean Hunt, another Salt Lake attorney, wrote, "The attorneys who had the guts to pursue the issue and the commission, social justice minded to make the move, deserve compliment. I clearly see the arguments contra, but cannot subscribe thereto especially now when costs preclude all too many from court access."
Phillip B. Shell, an attorney who represents claimants before the commission, said sometimes small cases involving compensation are abandoned because an attorney can't be found who can afford to litigate a case that would pay him only 20 percent of $385 in disputed benefits.
On the other side, attorney Larry R. White said the Utah Worker's Compensation Act doesn't give the commission the authority to award attorney's fees and the Utah Supreme Court has spoken accordingly. He said the number of litigations will increase and the separate award won't reduce the cost to employers.
Several claims adjusters for Intermountain Health Care Inc. said the decision will create more conflict between employers and employees and some risk managers for the Utah Transit Authority said the decision "further attests to your reputation of being anti-business at a time when business needs all the encouragement that can be offered."