An Ohio Supreme Court case against a company involved in workers’ compensation hearings could alter the way claims are handled, observers say.
“This is a lot bigger than the case it revolves around,” said Tony Fiore of the Ohio Chamber of Commerce. “This is the biggest crisis to hit workers’ compensation in the last few years. It could turn the system upside down.”
The case began in April 2002 when the Cleveland Bar Association filed a complaint against Dublin-based CompManagement Inc., an actuarial company that appears in up to 30,000 workers’ compensation cases a year. The company, one of the largest of about 50 such Ohio organizations, deals with paperwork and underwriting issues, gives opinions and directly and indirectly questions witnesses at hearings.
The bar association monitored hearings and determined the system wasn’t working, said David Kutik, the bar association’s president-elect.
“There is a lack of true accountability here that you would have when a lawyer represents a client,” Kutik said. “Lawyers have been concerned about this for many years.”
The Board of Commissioners on the Unauthorized Practice of Law recommended to the Ohio Supreme Court on May 18 that CompManagement be sanctioned for improperly representing clients in legal matters. The board, an arm of the Supreme Court, ruled that the company is engaging in the unauthorized practice of law when it represents employers in workers’ compensation hearings.
Justices were not expected to act on the matter before June 1, the deadline for the bar association to respond to CompManagement’s request for the Supreme Court to clarify the board’s finding. The board’s action caused the Industrial Commission to suspend 70 percent of its hearings for a couple of days last week. The hearings resumed upon assurances that hearing officers would not be disciplined.
For decades, companies like CompManagement have represented employers in nearly half of the 200,000 workers’ compensation hearings conducted annually. CompManagement’s attorneys want the court to clarify the consequences of the board’s report. The company risks $10,000 in fines for each of its representations, attorneys said.
“If such assistance were to cease abruptly, the system would be severely crippled while employers, claimants, and the state were unable to meet the demand of the sheer numbers of hearings,” the filing said.
State officials will only say that changes will have to be made if justices uphold the board’s ruling. Should that happen, workers’ compensation premiums paid by employers could skyrocket, said Robert Kincaid, an attorney representing CompManagement.
Collectively, Ohio companies pay $1.5 billion to $2 billion in premiums now, according to the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation. Involving attorneys would double the case time and drive up the medical and indemnity payments, Kincaid said. The Cleveland Bar Association’s Kutik disagreed.
“It’s a highly speculative question to say premiums will go up or down as a result of this decision,” Kutik said. “If clients get better representation, ultimately they will go down.”
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