Injured worker's law firm denied fee recoup from comp awardPosted On: Apr. 3, 2015 12:00 AM CST
A law firm that helped an injured worker recover underpaid workers compensation benefits can't receive legal fees from the claimant's award since it was used to recoup prior benefits the worker had been overpaid, the Ohio Supreme Court has ruled.
Karen Baker was injured at work in 1995 and received temporary total disability workers comp benefits for physical and psychological injuries, court records show. The Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation sought repayment of $63,480 in benefits from Ms. Baker in 2008 after an investigation showed that Ms. Baker was working between January 2002 and November 2007, inappropriately receiving TTD benefits during that time.
The Industrial Commission of Ohio granted the workers comp bureau's motion and ordered Ms. Baker to repay the benefits, according to court filings.
Ms. Baker and attorneys from the Youngstown, Ohio, law firm Schiavoni, Schiavoni, Bush & Muldowney Co. L.P.A. filed an application in March 2010 seeking an increase in Ms. Baker's permanent partial disability compensation, records show. The Ohio workers comp bureau found that she was entitled to an increase in benefits and awarded her $24,650, which was credited toward the more than $63,000 that she previously was ordered to repay.
The Schiavoni law firm filed a motion with the state workers comp bureau seeking $8,216 in legal fees for representing Ms. Baker in her award recovery, filings show. The motion was sent for consideration to the Ohio industrial commission, which denied the law firm's request on the grounds that it had no jurisdiction to resolve a fee dispute between the workers comp bureau and the attorneys.
The Ohio 10th District Court of Appeals later denied the Schiavoni firm's request. The appellate court ruled that The Ohio workers comp bureau could withhold payments to a claimant that are used to recover fraudulent overpayment of benefits, and that the bureau is not required to pay a law firm's fees out of such awards.
The Ohio Supreme Court unanimously upheld the appellate court's ruling on Wednesday, finding that the workers comp bureau can't be compelled to pay the Schiavoni firm's legal fees out of Ms. Baker's PPD benefit award.
The Schiavoni law firm had argued in filings that its legal fees for Ms. Baker's case couldn't be used to recoup overpayment of workers comp benefits paid to Ms. Baker. But the high court said Wednesday that, under Ohio law, “the bureau may use any lawful means to recover compensation that has been paid to a person who was not entitled to the compensation due to fraud.”
According to the decision, the law firm can pursue Baker for the fee.