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Alaska’s highest court on Friday remanded back to the Alaska Workers' Compensation Board an order for an employer to pay attorney’s fees it found to be unreasonable, and requested that the legal fees stemming from a case where a tetraplegic was wrongfully denied a modified vehicle be paid in full.
The state comp board had previously denied Bryce Warnke-Green's request that his employer Wasilla, Alaska-based Pro-West Contractors LLC pay for a van modified to accommodate his work-related disability and, on appeal, the Alaska Workers' Compensation Appeals Commission decided that a modifiable van was a compensable medical benefit, according to documents in Bryce Warnke-Green vs. Pro-West Contractors LLC and Liberty Northwest Insurance Co., filed in the Supreme Court of Alaska in Anchorage.
Mr. Warnke-Green moved for attorney's fees, which the commission reduced the attorney's hourly rate, deducted a few time entries, and awarded him less than half of what was requested, documents state. He then asked the commission to reconsider its award, but it declined to do so because of its view that the state law allows it to reconsider only the final decision on the merits of an appeal, according to the ruling.
The state Supreme Court, in turn, granted the worker's petition for review and held that the commission “clearly erred by reducing the hourly rate without an evidentiary basis for doing so and that its disallowance of one time entry (of an attorney’s hours worked) was an abuse of discretion,” the ruling states.
The commission “has the necessarily incidental authority to reconsider its nonfinal decisions. We also reverse the Commission's award of attorney's fees and remand for an award that is fully compensable and reasonable,” the ruling states.
A Liberty Mutual Insurance Co. spokesman, speaking on behalf of its subsidiary named in legal papers, said the company does not comment on legal matters. The contracting company and attorneys involved could not immediately be reached for comment.
Alaska Gov. Bill Walker on Friday signed into law a bill that aims to reduce administrative costs in the workers compensation system and provide a clear definition of independent contractor, thus helping to combat worker misclassification.