In a previous blog, I listed Number 10, The table of scheduled members, which is a rather bizarre list of 34 body parts or combinations of body parts found in Ala. Code § 25-5-57(a)(3) with a corresponding number of weeks a worker may be compensated if he is unfortunate enough to be injured while at work.
Number 9: No recovery for psychological injuries if the mental disorder or mental injury that has neither been produced nor been proximately caused by some physical injury to the body.
Number 8: Attorney’s Fees
Ala. Code § 25-5-90 allows the trial judge to “fix the fee of the attorney for the plaintiff for his legal services and the manner of its payment.” By statute, attorney fees in workers’ compensation case are capped at 15 percent. The statutory 15 percent cap on attorney’s fees in workers’ compensation cases has been law since 1949. Other neighboring states have substantially higher attorney’s fees in workers’ compensation cases. For example, attorney’s fee are at least 25 percent in Georgia and Mississippi; 20 percent in Tennessee; and 20 percent in Florida, which uses a sliding scale. Florida also permits attorney’s fees when successfully assisting claimants in obtaining medical benefits. Most Alabama practitioners who represent injured workers in workers’ compensation cases do so at least in part because they a feel a duty to represent injured workers. The fact that the allowed attorney’s fee is limited does not stop all practitioners from practicing in this area, although arguably there are smaller claims in which it is all but impossible for an injured worker to secure legal representation. Perhaps a sliding fee scale would be the answer.
Also, there is an issue about the extent of attorney fee permitted in Alabama for that portion of any award that represents payment for medical care (as opposed to indemnity and vocational benefits). See Ala. Code § 25-5-1(1). An increasing number of workers’ compensation cases present disputes about medical benefits and this is particularly true when the case is settled with future medical benefits left open. Injured workers are often left with no one to help them, except for those who do so on a pro bono basis. Pro bono work is important and highly encouraged and most practitioners provide more than share of free legal services. However, the current system almost provides an incentive for insurance carriers to be less than efficient in ensuring adequate and timely medical care for injured workers, especially when some time passes after a court-approved settlement.