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Published: Thursday, 12/7/2006

Injured workers, employers benefit from Supreme Court ruling

COLUMBUS, Ohio The Ohio Supreme Court upheld the use of non-lawyers as representatives in cases of workers hurt on the job, dismissing a claim that those advocates were practicing law illegally.

The 6-1 ruling Wednesday was a victory for employers and injured workers, saving them from having to hire attorneys in workers compensation hearings.

It s a great decision, said Tony Fiore, a policy analyst for the Ohio Chamber of Commerce. If the decision would have (gone) the other direction, it would have meant a substantial cost increase for both businesses and injured workers who would have to hire attorneys.

The ruling affects cases argued before the Bureau of Workers Compensation and the Industrial Commission of Ohio, which handles disputed BWC claims.

About 185,000 workers compensation hearings are held each year, and about half the clients in those cases are represented by someone other than an attorney, according to the BWC.

The case began in 2004 when the Cleveland Bar Association filed a complaint with the Supreme Court s Board on the Unauthorized Practice of Law against CompManagement Inc., a Columbus-area actuary company that uses non-lawyers in its handling of workers compensation cases.

The court disagreed with two board rulings in favor of the bar association.

We reject the final report of the board and find no evidence that any of the respondents committed any specific act constituting the unauthorized practice of law, Justice Maureen O Connor wrote for the majority.

Bar association president Hugh McKay said the group filed the complaint because it believed non-lawyers were providing services that must be performed by licensed attorneys.

Businesses have used actuary companies to draft and convey settlement offers, raise questions during hearings and offer advice to clients.

It is very important that we be careful and make sure that people are not practicing law when they are not lawyers, and certainly that seems to be the case in this regard, McKay said. However, we are absolutely respectful of the Supreme Court s decision.



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