UPDATE: Oregon HB 2764 regarding attorney fee increases is now at the Senate
Our last blog post on House Bill 2764 outlined the potential negative and far-reaching impact of the bill in the context of increased attorney’s fees for the claimants’ bar. HB 2764 was introduced by the Oregon Trial Lawyers Association and carried with it potentially significant and debilitating implications for processing claims efficiently and cost-effectively for workers and employers in Oregon. In particular our blog outlined the primary concern that certain language in the original bill’s text could allow for claimants’ attorneys to submit monthly bills to insurers for “investigative activities.” The language, as originally proposed provided:
(14)(b) If an injured worker is represented by an attorney, the insurer or self-insured employer shall pay the attorney a reasonable attorney fee based upon an hourly rate for the efforts in scheduling, providing or attending any investigation process required under this subsection. After consultation with the Board of Governors of the Oregon State Bar, the Workers’ Compensation Board shall adopt rules for the establishment, assessment and enforcement of an hourly attorney fee rate. [emphasis added]
The above language has essentially been gutted from HB 2764 thanks to the efforts of Oregon’s Management-Labor Advisory Committee (MLAC) following negotiations between the interested parties on both sides. Eventual proposals adopted by both sides were ultimately accepted in order to move the bill forward to the Senate floor. In particular, section (14) now under subsection (a) reads:
If the injured worker is represented by an attorney, the insurer or self-insured employer shall pay the attorney a reasonable attorney fee based upon an hourly rate for actual time spent during the personal or telephonic interview or deposition. After consultation with the Board of Governors of the Oregon State Bar, the Workers’ Compensation Board shall adopt rules for the establishment, assessment and enforcement of an hourly attorney fee rate specified in this subsection. [emphasis added]
These changes significantly limit the potential scope under which attorneys in the claimants’ bar could attempt to request fees, by limiting the focus to depositions or telephonic interviews rather than essentially any “investigatory activity” engaged in pre-litigation or thereafter. In other words, the most damaging potential effect of HB 2764 to carriers and self-insured companies has been eliminated through the efforts of MLAC.
Nevertheless, HB 2764 continues to award attorneys’ fees in a number of new instances as previously discussed with some modifications. Additional amendments to the original version of the bill now before the Senate include removing the $3,000 limit on assessed attorney fees for unreasonable delay in the payment of compensation or unreasonable delay in accepting or denying a claim, but capping that amount at $4,000.
According to the Oregon Self-Insurers Association the modified version of HB 2764 is expected to pass both the Senate and the House.
As always, the attorneys at Reinisch Wilson Weier PC will continue to update you on relevant legislative activities and movement. In the meantime, if you have any questions relative to HB 2764 or any other matter please do not hesitate to contact the author of this article or any of the attorneys at Reinisch Wilson Weier PC.