DOL-Joint Bar Association Announces Annual Meeting

The DOL-Joint Bar Association has announced its annual membership meeting, which will be held in conjunction with Loyola Law School’s Annual Longshore Conference. The meeting will be held on Wednesday, March 18, 2015 at 3:00 p.m. at the Pan-American Life Center, Orleans Room (11th Floor), 601 Poydras St., New Orleans LA 70130. Director of OWCP Longshore Tony Rios will be addressing the membership and we will have all of the Regional District Directors in attendance.  This meeting is open to all plaintiff and defense attorneys representing parties before the United States Department of Labor regardless of membership in the DOL-Joint Bar Association.  Please share this announcement with any colleagues who practice before the United States Department of Labor.

For anyone interested in membership in the DOL-Joint Bar Association, you can apply or renew online using your credit card at www.doljointbar.org. Applications will also be accepted at the Annual Membership Meeting on March 18th.

Loyola Law School’s Annual Longshore Conference Is An Important Industry Event

The Annual Longshore Conference sponsored by Loyola Law School in cooperation with the United States Department of Labor, will be held March 19th and 20th at the Astor Crowne Plaza Hotel in New Orleans.

This year’s conference will be unique and should not be missed by any LHWCA or DBA practitioner.  The Director of DLHWC, the National Office Branch Chiefs and all of the District Directors will be presenting at this year’s conference.  The program will address changes in the operation of OWCP and specifically the DLHWC, as well as future plans to improve operations in claims administration. There will be a representative of the Special Claims Unit to discuss claims under the War Hazards Compensation Act and how those claims are administered. There has never been such a wealth of knowledge from the Department of Labor presented at any program and everyone who handles claims under the Act will want to attend.

The program also includes an annual overview of recent judicial developments in claims under the Act, maritime jurisdiction that impacts what law covers a claim, and the standards for settlement approval under the Act in light of recent jurisprudence. Functional Capacity Evaluations are becoming a greater influence in claims handling and medical care, and there will be a panel of experts to discuss the issues involving these tests. Claims more frequently involve disputes concerning multiple employers and multiple carriers and the program will explore the legal issues involved in those claims, as well as the impact of employers and carriers that are defunct or bankrupt, and occasions where coverage lapses. There will also be sessions on both legal ethics and professionalism.

To register for the program, visit www.loyno.edu/cle, or call 504-861-5564 to speak with Natasha Lacoste, Director of Continuing Legal Education.

Chief Judge of Benefits Review Board to Retire

Hon. Nancy S. Dolder, Chief Judge of the Benefits Review Board, has announced her retirement effective April 30, 2014.  Judge Dolder was appointed as one of the five members of the BRB in 1985.  She served as Acting Chairman and Chief Judge from 1993 to 1994, and was appointed Associated Deputy Secretary for Adjudication in 1998, having management and administrative oversight of the three appellate adjudicatory boards in the Department of Labor.  She developed the strategy to reduce case backlogs in those agencies, long known for lengthy delays in deciding cases and issuing decisions.  Then Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao named her Chair and Chief Judge of the BRB in 2001.

Prior to her federal service, Judge Dolder was Chief Counsel for the California State Teachers Retirement System and the TEachers Retirement Fund, one of the largest public investment funds in the country.  She was in private practice in California for several years prior.

Judge Dolder was a strong proponent of legal education, serving for seventeen years on the Advisory Board of Loyola Law School’s Annual Longshore Conference.  She will be missed in the longshore community.  We wish her and her husband, Carl, a long and happy retirement.

BRB Finds Section 28(a) Fee Liability Applies Throughout Claim

On November 26, 2013, the Benefits Review Board issued its decision in Bell v. SSA Terminals, LLC, BRB No. 13-0055, which addressed a claim for attorney fees in a completely controverted claim.  Employer and Carrier had failed to pay benefits to Claimant within thirty days of service of his claim for benefits, but subsequently accepted and paid the claim.  Several disputes existed with respect to counsel’s claim for attorney fees and costs.  The Administrative Law Judge disallowed attorney fees after the Carrier accepted the claim and issued payment for benefits, finding that there was no further dispute upon the tender of benefits.

The BRB reversed the ALJ, stating that once the Employer and Carrier fail to pay benefits within thirty days of service of the claim, triggering the application of Section 28(a), the claim is thereafter governed by Section 28(a) and the Employer and Carrier cannot thereafter stop the entitlement to attorney fees with a subsequent tender of benefits.

This decision has significant implications to Employers and Carriers, in that a Claimant’s attorney can attempt to “run up the bill” even after a claim has been accepted and paid by the Employer and Carrier.  What this claim leaves unanswered is how long fee liability attaches.  Once a claim is resolved by litigation and all amounts due are paid, in the absence of a new dispute, there should be no continuing fee liability for a Claimant’s attorney to “monitor” the ongoing claim. The BRB’s decision does not explain the scope of its decision, so this will be left to further litigation.  It should make Employers and Carriers cautious before completely controverting a claim, as fee liability can be a significant factor in many claims.  In Bell, the liability to Claimant for indemnity benefits appears to have been approximately $80,000, and the attorney fee claim was for over $55,000, almost 70% of the indemnity exposure.