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Bill draft could make it easier for injured workers to find legal counsel

An interim Legislative committee has approved a bill draft to require the state’s workers compensation agency to pick up an injured worker’s legal bills, if that worker appeals a decision from the agency – and wins at any appellate level, even if the agency ultimately prevails.

Right now, Workforce Safety and Insurance pays those attorney fees if the worker ultimately prevails.

Sen. Nichole Poolman chaired the Workers Compensation Review Committee. She said the panel was told lawyers are reluctant to take on workers comp cases.

"We hope this will help people find an attorney, if they want to challenge or appeal a ruling from WSI," Poolman said in an interview. "We think this is the way to do that."

WSI director Bryan Klipfel said he believes the current system is fair. But he said if the Legislature wants to make this change, WSI will go along with it.

Klipfel said a little less than one percent of the decisions go into court. He says one of the reasons for that  could be – there are a number of safeguards in reviewing the decisions, including an independent, off-site decision review office.

"Once they make a decision, attorneys can get a $500 fee, just to review that decision," Klipfel said.

Klipfel said WSI wants to see workers have access to legal counsel – and he understands there aren’t a lot of attorneys who want to take those cases.

"By having good attorneys out there, it makes us a better organization," he said.

Klipfel said WSI has been working with the UND Law School to get some new lawyers interested in workers’ comp law.

"Maybe it'll generate some interest," Klipfel said. "We feel it is a potentially good business."

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