Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Court examines injury case rules

Bosses, unions fret about higher costs

By Andrew Welsh-Huggins
The Associated Press

COLUMBUS - Injured employees could have fewer options appealing workers' compensation cases, and companies could face millions of dollars in added costs if such cases must be handled by lawyers, say groups opposed to a ruling prohibiting the use of other advocates.

The Ohio Supreme Court today was scheduled to hear arguments over the ruling, which could alter a 92-year-old practice allowing non-lawyers to handle cases of employees hurt on the job.

The ruling by a state Supreme Court board is opposed by dozens of groups representing businesses, unions, libraries, local governments and school boards.

All are concerned about the potential for increased cost and access to the appeals system by injured workers.

Interest in the case is so strong that the Supreme Court created a special link on its Web site to documents filed ahead of today's hearing.

Ohio has long allowed non-lawyers to represent companies and injured workers in appeals of cases involving workplace injuries.

But in May, the Supreme Court board ruled against a suburban Columbus company that handles workers' compensation cases for businesses. The board said CompManagement Inc. was engaged in the unauthorized practice of law.

The ruling by the court's Board of Commissioners on the Unauthorized Practice of Law was a victory for the Cleveland Bar Association, which filed a complaint against the company.

Requiring businesses to hire lawyers instead of non-lawyer advocates could cost Ohio companies millions of dollars annually, said Tony Fiore, the Ohio Chamber of Commerce's director of labor and human resources policy.

CompManagement's lawyer declined to comment. A message was left with the company.

Injured workers represented by volunteer union representatives would have to pay for their own attorney or more likely drop appeals, said Kent Darr, spokesman for the AFL-CIO of Ohio.

Wide opposition

A sampling of the more than 65 groups opposing a ruling by a board of the state Supreme Court that would prohibit the use of non-lawyers in arguing workers' compensation cases.

• City of Cincinnati

• Lake County Chamber of Commerce

• Ohio Grocers Association

• Ohio Automobile Dealers Association

• Ohio Dental Association

• Ohio Restaurant Association

• Ohio Association of McDonald's Operators

• Ohio Pest Control Association

• Ohio Forestry Association, Inc.

• Bowling Centers Association of Ohio

• Ohio Veterinary Medical Association

• Ohio Pork Producers Council

• The Wholesale Beer & Wine Association of Ohio

• The Ohio Nursery and Landscape

• Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Retirement Services Inc.

Source: Ohio Supreme Court

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