The Oregon Supreme Court has ruled that, when an injured worker releases “all rights to compensation, attorney fees and penalties potentially arising out of claims”, the injured worker continues to have complete coverage for medical services, including the possibility of attorney fees that may be awarded when the worker is involved in a later dispute with the insurer over a medical service. Liberty Northwest Insurance v. Watkins. The court reached this decision by carefully analyzing the Oregon statutes that provide for continuing medical services in an accepted workers’ compensation claim. The court concluded that these statutes, ORS 656.236, 656.245, 656.327, and 656.385, include the potential for an injured worker’s attorney to be paid a fee out of the insurer’s pocket when the injured worker later succeeds in obtaining an order requiring the insurer to cover a disputed medical service. The supreme court held that the assessed attorney fee is an “ancillary” component of the medical services that cannot by law be released in a claim disposition agreement under ORS 656.236.
This is good news to a limited number of injured workers who have entered into claim disposition agreements in which the insurer insisted that the injured worker release all claims to all future attorney fees. In our firm we attempt to negotiate claim disposition agreements that explicitly do not release future attorney fees, and many if not most insurers, including SAIF Corporation, do not attempt to obtain a release of future attorney fees. Claim disposition agreements can often work well for the injured individual; however, even with this recent ruling, there are several potential pitfalls that need to be carefully dealt with.
To learn how the attorneys at Cary Wing Edmunson P.C. can assist you, please call our office at 541-485-0203 or Toll Free at 1-800-624-4406.