Sen. Troy Jackson’s bill would let lawyers jack up fees on injured workers

Senate President Troy Jackson is the sole sponsor of a bill that would eliminate limits on how much lawyers can charge injured workers for settlements in workers’ compensation cases. Photo courtesy official Maine Legislature website.

AUGUSTA – A sliding scale system that limits how much lawyers can charge injured workers for representing them in workers’ compensation cases would be eliminated under a bill sponsored by Maine Senate President Troy Jackson.

The sliding scale represents a limitation on what lawyers can collect from a lump sum settlement won by an injured worker. The sliding scale currently limits what a lawyer can collect at 10% on the first $50,000 of a settlement and tapers down to a maximum of 5% of any amount over $90,000.

Senate President Jackson’s bill strips that language out of state law.

The bill also would require the employer to pay some legal fees if the injured worker prevails in a dispute. The non-profit group Maine People Before Politics says even that piece of the bill is unnecessary because Maine is one of the few states that provides lawyers for free to workers through Maine’s Worker Advocate Program.

For many injured workers, the lump sum settlement they receive after a career ending injury represents a life line to the future. Often, they pay off immediate costs and bills related to their case and then put the remaining funds away to provide long term stability.

As an example of how the sliding scale system that is currently in state law works, on a settlement of $150,000, a lawyer is limited to collecting $11,000 from that settlement, aside from other fees related to medical examins, medical witnesses, appeal fees and court reporter costs. That amount is just short of 7.5% of the total settlement amount.

A 2015 survey of injured workers who had work related injuries or illnesses by Martindale Nolo Research found that nationally, the average worker had to pay out about 15% of their settlement in lawyer’s fees, more than double the sliding scale limit in Maine.

Maine People Before Politics says the bill, L.D. 1623 should be voted down by the Maine Legislature’s Labor and Housing Committee because it would “line the pockets of attorneys at the expense of injured workers.”

Most states place a limit on the amount of fees a lawyer can collect from an injured worker’s settlement, so this proposal would put Maine among a minority of states that did not provide that protection for workers.

Senate President Troy Jackson is the only sponsor of this bill. The bill will have a public hearing on Monday, May 6th at 9 AM before the Maine Legislature’s Labor and Housing Committee in Room 202 of the Cross Building.

You can click here to read the full text of L.D. 1623.

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