CAPITOL UPDATE FROM SEN. EDDIE LUCIO, JR.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, February 1, 2007
CONTACT: Doris Sanchez , Press Secretary
Phone: (512) 463-0385

INJURED WORKERS MAY BE ELIGIBLE FOR LEGAL COUNSEL

Currently in Texas, people injured on the job are at an unfair disadvantage in the court room. Their inability to work affords them little or no income to pay for legal representation.

In many cases, insurance carriers opt to file in district court when injured employees are awarded income and/or medical benefits at the administrative level because they are aware that injured individuals are often unable to obtain legal representation. Consequently, these cases often result in default judgments.

Generally insurers are at an advantage because the cost is less for legal fees than for payment of benefits. And in instances when injured employees choose to represent themselves in court, insurers routinely prevail because they have legal counsel.

I have filed a bill that will help level the playing field for both parties. Senate Bill (SB) 287 will provide district courts the authority to appoint an attorney to represent injured employees who have won approval throughout the administrative claims process.

During the 79th legislative session, we passed House Bill (HB) 7, which eliminated the Texas Workers' Compensation Commission and moved workers' compensation under the regulatory authority of the Texas Department of Insurance (TDI). HB 7 also created an independent agency to protect the interests of injured workers and advocate on their behalf. It is called the Office of Injured Employee Counsel (OIEC).
This department has identified claims cases that clearly demonstrate how the current system is failing some injured employees. SB 287 is a response to these findings. If injured employees are guaranteed the right to legal counsel, insurance carriers who are currently electing to appeal in court will be more judicious in determining when to pursue legal action.

In cases where the injured worker prevails in court, HB 7 already mandates the carrier to pay for the employee's legal fees. However, injured employees have difficulty obtaining attorneys to represent them since they face the prospect that they may not be paid. SB 287 would guarantee that an injured employee's attorney would be rightfully compensated for reasonable legal fees in cases where the injured employee loses the case. The fees would be reimbursed from the Subsequent Injury Fund (SIF), an account with a balance of over $40 million. The fund is maintained with taxes paid by insurance companies and is administered by TDI. My bill would more fairly utilize the funds insurance companies are already required by law to pay into the SIF.

No one should have to forfeit a court case with merit because of the lack of money to hire an attorney. Our judicial system should be based on equity, and through SB 287, I want to ensure fairness to both sides in workers compensation cases.

As always, if you have any input or questions regarding these or other matters, please do not hesitate to contact Doris Sanchez, my press secretary, 512-463-0385.

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