I recently finished a workers’ compensation trial in a small north Alabama county. The trial took just one day. It was a straightforward case. The issue was simple — how disabled was my client. In my law practice, I have workers’ compensation trials frequently.
If the case was so simple, why did the defense firm bring 2 law partners and 2 law clerks for a one day trial? Why are four legal minds needed for the task? I’m flattered by the opportunity to face such a large trial team from Birmingham in a one day case. But, I doubt they came just to see me. From my table, it was clearly overkill. One defense attorney did all the work – arguing the case, making the objections, questioning the witnesses, talking with the court. I guess the others were present to carry the file and cheer for him. From my seat at the other table, the extras did nothing.
I’m sure all four legal professionals were billing to attend this trial a couple hours from their office. When I see tactics like this, I’m always curious as to how the defense lawyers justify the extra costs to their client.
These cases are very important. They are very important to my clients who are hurting. I want to win. I’m sure the cases are also important to the insurance companies paying the claims. The problem is lawyers motivated for self-gain over client-interest. In this recent case, the cost-padding by defense counsel started well before trial.
Don’t think I’m just picking on defense lawyers. Their system – hourly billing – lends itself to overkill and inefficiency. However, plenty of plaintiff attorneys put their own financial motive first as well. They just do it differently. With plaintiff attorneys, it usually involves the quickest settlement possible to avoid work. Because of that, you now see plaintiff lawyers advertising for cases when they really are not willing to fight for their clients. That is not right for the clients who need our help.
Workers’ compensation systems were supposed to be part of a “grand bargain.” As part of that “bargain,” employers were largely granted immunity from lawsuits seeking full damages. In exchange, employers were required to provide basic (minimal) benefits to all their employees who suffered an accident or injury on the job.
Yet, the system has changed. And, it has changed in ways that make it more difficult for the injured worker to get the medical care, the rehabilitation or the disability benefits needed. In many ways, the Grand Bargain has been corrupted by legal, insurance and medical firms. Want an example of how medical benefit companies have corrupted the grand bargain for their own gain at worker expense? Read the ProPublica article, All of This Because Somebody Got Hurt at Work. It’s sickening to think that while people hurt and unable to work are trying to get approval for basic care, the benefit managers over their claims are partying like no tomorrow in Las Vegas. The party is a clear example of how much money they are taking from a system needed by these injured workers.
An entire system has been constructed that often places the injured worker last. When a worker is hurt on the job, he or she needs medical benefits. They need those benefits quickly. The quicker the treatment, the higher the likelihood of a good recovery. When a dispute arises as to the level of disability, let’s get to trial as quickly and efficiently as possible. That’s the way it should work. If it did, the court system and the injured workers who need it, would both benefit.