After four years of working on two
cases involving injured workers, attorney Mike Martinez has not been paid a
Under Utah policy, there are limits on how much he is paid, and
then he doesn't get paid until his clients' win their cases against Workers
Compensation Fund (WCF). Martinez argues that it's unfair that his WCF
counterparts continue to get a paycheck while the cases are being contested.
Because of that and the low fee limits that were established in 1991,
Martinez and other lawyers say it's difficult for injured workers to get anyone
to represent them.
"Attorneys can't afford to work for free," Martinez
told a group of some 30 people during a Utah Labor Commission meeting on
Most of those in attendance, including lawyers and workers,
were there to discuss proposed changes to the state's rule on attorney fee
limits in injured worker cases.
Some of those attending complained that
the meeting was not publicly noticed, and could not find information about it
or the rule changes on the commission's Web site.
Robyn Barkdull, the
commission's spokeswoman, recognized it was an error that the meeting was not
posted on the site, saying the site is being revised. She said the meeting
notice was sent to the media and other people a week ago.
Sherrie Hayashi said the agency is not required to hold a public hearing before
rules are changed but wanted to hear public comment on the proposed attorney
fee rule changes. After listening to the public for about 90 minutes, she said
she was concerned about some issues and didn't take any action.
will seriously revisit this rule," Hayashi said after the meeting.
1991, the state rule was changed from no attorney fee limits to a cap of
$12,250 per case. However, if lawyers win medical-related costs for a client,
they do not get any compensation, attorneys said.
A few years ago, the
commission created an eight-member committee - comprised of insurance companies
and attorneys who represent injured workers - to evaluate the rule because most
attorneys were rejecting injured worker cases due to the financial limits,
lawyers said. There are only a handful of attorneys who actually take injured
worker cases, they said.
Under the committee's recommendation, the rule
would expand the fee cap to a maximum of $15,250 per case and no compensation
for winning medical-related costs for the client. The fee cap is only for
attorneys representing injured workers. There is no comparable cap for
attorneys representing the insurance companies, such as WCF, the state's
largest workers' compensation insurer.
Attorney Dawn Atkin, who sat on
the committee, said the rule changes were the result of a "two-year
compromise." She said she supports a higher fee cap of at least $17,000 per
"Both sides were not smiling when we left the room," she said
during the meeting.
The issue of a lack of fee limits for insurers was
brought up during the committee's discussions at some point, Atkins said. But
insurance representatives, including one from WCF, refused to talk about the
topic, saying their fees can't be regulated.
Calls made to WCF on
Wednesday afternoon seeking comment were not immediately returned.
During the Wednesday meeting, injured workers talked about their
difficulty in finding an attorney, with some complaining they can't get anyone
to represent them. Martinez asked Hayashi to hold a public hearing before she
makes a decision on the rule changes.
Attorney Mark Sanchez said there
has been an increase in injured worker cases, especially among Spanish-speaking
Latinos, but lawyers can't afford to take their cases. He said the rule changes
are inadequate compared to the real changes and issues that need to be
addressed on both sides.
"I do have to turn away valid cases because I
can't do it alone," Sanchez said. After the meeting, Hayashi said she is
concerned about the "fairness issue" with fee caps applied only to attorneys
representing injured workers. She said she wants to make sure the rule changes
are "balanced and fair" for workers and lawyers on both sides.
she expects to make a decision within the next 30 days.