Workers’ Compensation: The Role of the Ohio Attorney General’s Office in Workers’ Compensation Court Appeals
By Scott W Gedeon
There are three parties in a workers’ compensation appeal pending before a court of common pleas: the injured worker, the employer, and the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC). While most employers will recognize both the injured worker and his attorney, the BWC generally enters the scene once the matter is appealed into court. The Ohio Attorney General’s (AG) office represents the BWC and assigns an assistant attorney general to each workers’ compensation court appeal.
If the employer is self-insured, the AG takes a limited role in the court proceedings and will not participate in trial or settlement negotiations, as any settlement is paid directly by the employer to the injured worker. However, if the employer pays into the state insurance fund, the AG has an interest in the case as they hold the “purse strings” for the payment of any settlement.
Sometimes, the employer and the BWC’s interests are not aligned. For example, in an employer’s appeal to court, the AG will not take an active role in defending the case as the BWC is aligned with the injured worker. However, the AG remains interested in the case as they are again responsible for the settlement funds should the injured worker and employer reach a settlement.
In an injured worker’s appeal into court, the AG will take an active role in the matter. The employer and AG will usually work together in defense of the case. The attorneys at RBS have, over time, developed a solid track record of working together with the AG; therefore, we will often “take the lead” on depositions and trials. The AG will also take responsibility for the payment of some litigation costs, including deposition expenses and defense medical fees.
Unfortunately, sometimes the employer and BWC may have conflicting interests regarding settlement. While the AG will generally “go along” with the employer’s position on settlement, there are times that the AG, as counsel for the BWC, may evaluate a case and propose a settlement that would result in an increase in the employer’s premiums or otherwise negatively impact the employer. In these occasions, the employer simply cannot agree with the BWC’s position on settlement. At that point, the AG will “pass the defense” to the employer and no longer actively defend the case. When that happens, the employer, through counsel, will have the entire responsibility of defending the workers’ compensation appeal, often times including the payment of litigation costs.
At the end of the day, the successful defense of any state fund workers’ compensation appeal often involves open and frank communication with the AG regarding both the employer’s position in the case and how the AG may assist the employer with obtaining a desirable resolution of the litigation.
As always, if your company has questions or concerns regarding workers’ compensation court appeals, please do not hesitate to contact Scott Gedeon or any of the experienced workers’ compensation litigation attorneys at RBS.