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Non-lawyers May Handle Injury Cases

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  Posted 19 December 2004 - 02:53 PM

this looks to be a danger for nz -

Non-lawyers may handle injury cases
Thursday, December 16, 2004
Julie Carr Smyth
Plain Dealer Bureau


-- Concerned that ruling another way might cripple Ohio's workers' compensation system, the state's top court agreed Wednesday to allow non-lawyers to continue handling worker injury cases.

In a 5-2 decision, the Ohio Supreme Court rejected an attorney panel's recommendation that a Dublin-based actuarial firm, CompManagement Inc., be barred from the attorney-like advocacy it provides on workers' comp claims to a stable of 20,000 businesses.

The impact of the case, brought by the Cleveland Bar Association, stretches to businesses, labor unions and governments across the state. Many had feared that requiring the exclusive use of lawyers in the workers' comp system would escalate insurance costs and limit injured-worker options.

The decision was welcomed by Gov. Bob Taft, who said he had been awaiting the ruling.

"If we don't allow that, our workers' compensation costs could go up dramatically and we've worked very hard to keep them down," he said in an interview.

One economist estimated during testimony that requiring lawyers would have increased costs to employers of workers' comp insurance by $500 million a year, to $1.3 billion.

Writing for the court, Justice Alice Robie Resnick said Ohio began its workers' compensation in 1912 to keep the cases out of traditional courts and "to provide a speedy, simple, and inexpensive method to compensate workers."

That means allowing firms like CompManagement, known as a third-party administrator, or TPA, to handle the vast majority of work involved in claims. She also expressed concern that indecision in the case was beginning to cause delays in claim processing.

"Lay representation has been a feature of Ohio's workers' compensation system since its inception," she wrote.

Robie Resnick wrote that the court's Board of Commissioners on the Unauthorized Practice of Law, which ruled against CompManagement in May, "declined to consider . . . the public interest" in the case.

Two justices, Francis Sweeney and Paul Pfeifer, dissented.

Pfeifer wrote that CompManagement's activity crossed the line, because its employees present testimony, examine witnesses, make oral arguments and draw conclusions based on facts and evidence.

"I believe that the practice of law is the practice of law and that non-lawyers should not be able to engage in it," he said. "I believe this notwithstanding tradition and putative cost-savings."

Cleveland Bar Association President David Kutik said the main purpose of the suit was to clarify the roles of non-lawyers in the system.

He said a 1970 agreement between the Ohio State Bar Association and a group of actuarial firms allowed lay representation, but left many gray areas.

"Now everyone knows the rules, and we think that's a good thing," he said. "The issue is not whether lawyers are hurting, but how best are parties represented when their legal rights are at issue."

Elizabeth McNellie, a Baker & Hostetler attorney who represented CompManagement in the case, said the firm and similar one-stop shops save Ohio companies, injured workers and labor unions "untold dollars" in lawyer expenses.

More than 80 companies, the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, the Ohio AFL-CIO, and the Ohio Manufacturers signed on to CompManagement's side in the case.

There are 30 to 40 actuarial firms handling workers' comp claims in Ohio, employing 850 people - and the industry handled 37.6 percent of all workers' compensation cases, according to a 2002 study.

Randy Leffler, a spokesman for the Ohio Manufacturers Association, said companies often farm out workers' comp business because the system is so specialized and paperwork-intensive.

"The workers' comp system is complex and can be costly for employers," he said. "It's a huge cost of doing business in this state."

Columbus Bureau Chief Sandy Theis contributed to this article.

To reach this Plain Dealer reporter:

[email protected], 1-800-228-8272

2004 The Plain Dealer. Used with permission.

#2 User is offline   ernie 

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Posted 21 December 2004 - 10:54 PM

I am not a lawyer, but think I have a better track record with ACC cases than most lawyers working in the area do.

And if I had ever obtained a practicing certificate, which would have always been a dubious prospect given some brushes with the criminal law a few years back, I suspect I would have been disciplined by the Law Society before now for some of my postings on this Forum.

I do take the point, though. We do not want a bunch of incompetents, be they lawyers or not, representing claimants in ACC cases.

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