Litigation management is a crucial element of controlling your workers’ comp costs. Otherwise, you may be paying significant dollars for a variety of seemingly miniscule costs — all of which are easily avoidable. Your company’s mindset toward a layer should be that of a partner who can bring value to your worker’s comp program.
The Right Fit
Partnering with the right lawyer is the first step to reigning in legal costs. Rather than hiring someone ‘off the rack,’ your defense attorney should be someone who understands and shares your company’s culture and works with your organization to find ways of achieving best outcomes while keeping an eye on costs. You want someone with whom you can easily communicate — even on cases that are not being litigated.
Here are some factors to consider in deciding on a lawyer:
- Ask for recommendations. Seek input from others in similar businesses to yours. L-ook for attorneys who are considered part of the team.
- Get references. Especially if you are not sure whom to ask for recommendations, talk to clients of attorneys you are considering.
- Do a meet-and-greet. Don’t rely on phone or email interviews. You want to feel comfortable with the person you hire and vice versa. Bring him to your company, show him your facilities and see how he interacts with others involved in your workers’ comp program and other areas of your organization. Also, see how your TPA gets along with the person and vice versa.
- Ask questions. Find out the fees he charges as well as overall litigation costs.
Best Bang for the Buck
Once hired, your attorney should help you manage claims by showing what he can and should do and what you and your company can do.
- Accident investigations. Work with your attorney to find out what information you should obtain immediately following an injury that will help in the long run. Interviewing all relevant witnesses, taking recorded statements and creating a paper trail are among the best practices. These actions will cut down on the amount of work required of the attorney or other outside vendors later on, should the claim be litigated.
- Approvals/denials. Your attorney can help your claims adjusters better understand which claims can be defended if they are denied, and which are clearly compensable. You don’t want to waste time and money fighting losing battles.
- Determine who has responsibility for what. Defense counsels should do the work that is in their areas of expertise; likewise the claims adjuster, nurse case manager, TPA, etc. Completing wage forms, for example, should be the duty of the adjuster in most cases; however, they attorney may be better served taking on this responsibility if, say, the injured worker was employed for only a short period of time or was paid in a nontraditional manner. In that case, the attorney may be better able to calculate the wages. While nurse case managers and others are aptly qualified to complete many forms, the attorney should at least be consulted if the injury is complex or multiple body parts are involved. An attorney should be the one to obtain medical records when a case is in litigation — even if a nurse case manager has already obtained them. By using a subpoena, an attorney can get a more complete set of records.
Check the Facts
Even if you have hired the best workers’ comp defense attorney who is doing a great job helping your company, you still need to understand his bill and see if there are areas for reductions. Audit companies can help review the numbers. If anything looks too legalese or vague, ask questions until you are clear on what is being charged for what. Make sure you are paying for actual time spent on your claims and not on administrative tasks.
Instead of a necessary business expense, your attorney should be an asset to your company — someone who helps streamline the claims process.
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Author Michael Stack, Principal, COMPClub, Amaxx LLC. He is an expert in workers compensation cost containment systems and helps employers reduce their work comp costs by 20% to 50%. He works as a consultant to large and mid-market clients, is co-author of Your Ultimate Guide To Mastering Workers Comp Costs, a comprehensive step-by-step manual of cost containment strategies based on hands-on field experience, and is founder of COMPClub, an exclusive member training program on workers compensation cost containment best practices.
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