WORKERS COMP ATTY FEES: RAGER V. CRAWFORD & COMPANY (COA 7/20/2007)

RAGER V. CRAWFORD & COMPANY
WORKERS COMP:  ATTORNEYS FEES
2006-CA-002184
PUBLISHED: HOWARD, PRESIDING;  WINE, BUCKINGHAM CONCUR
COUNTY: WORKERS COMPENSATION BOARD
DATE RENDERED: 7/20/2007

COA affirmed the Worker’s Compensation Board decision awarding Rager an attorney’s fee pursuant to KRS 342.320(7), but denying his motion that the Appellee, Crawford and Company (hereinafter “Crawford”), his former employer, be required to pay that attorney’s fee. 

Rager requested sanctions in the form of attorney fees pursuant to KRS 342.310, based on the alleged unreasonableness of Crawford’s reopening of the proceedings. 

The ALJ entered an order on October 3, 2005, holding that the proposed medical procedures, including the additional surgery, were reasonable and ordering Crawford & Company to pay the expenses for such procedures as well as all other disputed medical bills. However, the ALJ denied Rager’s request for sanctions pursuant to KRS 342.310, finding that Crawford had a reasonable basis for reopening the proceedings and contesting the necessity of the additional expenses.  The ALJ’s order did, however, invite a standard motion for attorney fees by the claimant.

After a series of motions, appeals, remands, etc., the ultimate order which ended up in this appeal was the ALJ’s award of attorney fees to Rager, the claimant, but these were to be borne by him personally.

Rager’s only claim on appeals is that he should have been awarded attorney fees against Crawford pursuant to KRS 342.320. While that statute does not expressly prohibit the award of attorney fees against the employer, neither does it make any provision for such an award

COA believed the Board’s holding is consistent with a common-sense interpretation of KRS 342.320 and also with the overall statutory scheme, allowing attorney fees only from the employee personally or from his recovery, in the absence of grounds for sanctions.

Although he ALJ has the authority to award attorney fees in a medical-fee dispute under KRS 342.320(7), the COA did not construe this statute as permitting the imposition of fees on the defendant employer in this situation.

Under the statutory scheme, attorney fees can be imposed upon an employer only as a sanction under KRS 342.310, for prosecuting or defending workers’ compensation proceedings “without reasonable ground.” The ALJ found that Crawford had reasonable grounds for reopening and for their position in this matter. Rager did not appeal from that ruling.

The appellant asserts that his position is consistent with the legislative purpose of KRS 342.320(7), which allows the award of attorney fees on the reopening of a case. But there is nothing in that section which suggests that those fees should come from any other sources than they would come from in the ordinary case, before a reopening; that is, from the employee personally or from his recovery. 

The decision of the Worker’s Compensation Board is affirmed.

By Michael Stevens

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