A workers’ compensation case in Missouri clarifies when one side can be made to pay the court costs and attorney’s fees of the other side. According to the Labor and Industrial Relations Commission, only what happens during the claim for workers’ compensation matters – not anything that happened before the case was filed.
Judge Makes Employer Pay Attorney Fees and Court Costs
The case, Stratton v. City of Odessa, involved a police officer who was exposed to black mold in the deteriorating building that housed the police department. While he had no history of respiratory problems and had lived an active lifestyle, he ended up with an empyema in his lungs that required surgery, as well as permanent breathing conditions.
When the officer complained about the sordid conditions in the building, though, he was ignored. City representatives even lied to the officer and the other workers in the building: When the county sent a health inspector to check on building conditions, the inspector found mold, water damage, and sewer problems. The City, though, told workers in the building that the inspection found nothing wrong and the building had been given a “clean bill of health.”
Eventually, news of the cover-up was revealed. The building was closed in 2014, and the officer filed a claim for workers’ compensation for his occupational disease in 2015.
During that claim, the City insisted that the officer’s medical conditions were not work-related. However, they presented no evidence in support of these claims, and even the City’s own doctor refuted them.
The administrative law judge awarded the officer nearly $20,000 in attorney fees and court costs, in addition to workers’ compensation coverage for his medical expenses.
Commission Emphasizes That Only Conduct During the Claim Counts
The Labor and Industrial Relations Commission agreed with the judge’s decision to award fees and costs. However, it made sure to insist that making one party in a case pay the other side’s fees and costs was not just for exceptional cases – it also could only be done when the egregious conduct happened during the workers’ compensation claim.
Missouri Statute 287.560 allows a judge or the Commission to award one side the costs of the case, including any attorney’s fees, whenever the other side “brought, prosecuted or defended” their claims “without reasonable ground.”
In Stratton, though, the Commission pointed out that this only applied to conduct that happened during “the proceedings.” Those “proceedings” only begin when the workers’ compensation claim is filed. Unreasonable conduct that happened before the claim was filed – like covering up a health inspector’s report and lying about the dangerous working conditions in a building – could not be the grounds for awarding those costs and fees. Only unreasonable conduct during the course of the claim, like the City’s continued claim that the officer’s condition was not work-related without presenting evidence and after being refuted by the City’s own doctor, counted.
St. Joseph Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at the Smith Law Office
The personal injury lawyers and workers’ compensation attorneys at the Smith Law Office can help victims of workplace accidents and injuries recover the compensation they deserve. Contact them online or call their law office in St. Joseph at (816) 875-9373.