Assesses Attorney Fees
Assessed attorney fees in litigated workers’ compensation cases are extremely hard to obtain. A recent article in The Verdict, a Georgia Trial Lawyer magazine, addressed this issue.
After one year of litigation, taking 12 deposition and after over $150,000 of medical bills not paid (along with many doctors abandoning this worker for nonpayment of treatment charges) the insurance company and their lawyer continues to deny the claim in its entirety. The insurer failed to provide any evidence to support their denial of the claim. The Administrative Law Judge denied assessed fees of $98,000 and the Appellate Division also refused to award assessed fees and costs.
The Superior Court reversed the Appellate Division, and the decision is currently on appeal (Heyward v. Cummings Contract Delivery Services and Natural Liability & Fire Insurance Company and Amguard Insurance Company) to the Court of Appeals in Georgia.
The lawyer for this case argues that employers “do not care if their defense is unreasonable.” This lawyer was very critical of the Appellate Division, stating “The Board hurts good workers like Heyward every time it shrinks back from awarding assessed fees against any party who needlessly drags out a case and fails to produce any actual evidence to support their claims or defenses.” (pg. 31- The Verdict-Winter 2022/2023).
Over the last 10 years, there has been a huge proliferation of insurance lawyers to defend and litigate and deny workers’ compensation cases. This is partly due to the insurance company’s aggressively denying many legitimate cases. I have been in active practice of workers’ compensation cases in Suwanee GA for 44 years. The increase in the number of insurance defense law firms is absolutely amazing.
The insurance companies and their lawyers continue to deny the claim of many workers, genuinely hurt AND in doing so, they know there is no penalty for doing so. The workers’ compensation Board, by their refusal to award assessed fees in even the most obvious cases, send a strong message to the insurance companies and their lawyers that they may continue to aggressively litigate and deny claims that in times past, when the law was much more liberally interpreted, would have been accepted and paid and which would have allowed the worker to heal and return to a productive lifestyle.