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IDAHO MAY LIMIT LAWYER FEES IN WORKERS' COMP CASES

The Idaho Industrial Commission is considering a regulation limiting attorney fees to 25 percent of the workers' compensation payments received by their clients, injured workers.

Attorneys say that would cause more lawyers to turn down workers' comp cases and would interfere with attorney-client re-la-tion-ships.A public hearing was held last week at Idaho Falls, one of six scheduled statewide. Rexburg attorney Rich Andrus said it would limit the claims. "As attorneys, we can't accept them. We would have to close our doors on these types of cases all the time."

He also contended it's unfair to limit fees charged by a claimant's attorney without imposing the same limits on defense counsel.

Gerald Geddes, commission chair-man, said the commission proposed the rule because a few attorneys are abusing the system, charging exorbitant fees.

"It's a problem or we wouldn't be doing this," he said.

Commissioner Betty Richardson said 49 states already limit attorney fees in workers' comp cases.

But Idaho Falls attorney Paul Rippel said there was no reason to impose a limit in Idaho. "I think it's good to look at other jurisdictions, but I think Idaho in the past has been very healthy without the detailed regulation of fees," he said.

Another Idaho Falls lawyer, Mike McBride, said the commission was operating under a false assumption, that limiting legal fees would result in increased benefits for injured workers.

He also said he's concerned that the regulation is being driven by "a private or hidden agenda" to benefit the insurance industry.

"That's what your obligation is as commissioners, to benefit the injured workers of the state of Idaho, not the insurance companies," he said.

The commission will accept written comments on the proposals until Oct. 15.