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Watts v. Danville Hous. Auth.

Supreme Court of Kentucky

August 21, 2014

JACKSON W. WATTS, PARTY IN INTEREST AND LORETTA LANGFORD, APPELLANTS
v.
DANVILLE HOUSING AUTHORITY; HONORABLE J. LANGFORD OVERFIELD, ADMINISTRATIVE LAW JUDGE; AND WORKERS' COMPENSATION BOARD, APPELLEES

Released for Publication September 11, 2014.

ON APPEAL FROM COURT OF APPEALS. CASE NO. 2012-CA-000680-WC. WORKERS' COMPENSATION NO. 06-84241.

FOR APPELLANT, JACKSON W. WATTS, PARTY IN INTEREST: Jackson W. Watts.

FOR APPELLANT, LORETTA LANGFORD: Loretta Langford, Pro se.

FOR APPELLEE, DANVILLE HOUSING AUTHORITY: Kevin Wayne Weaver.

FOR AMICUS CURIAE, KENTUCKY CHAPTER OF AMERICAN FEDERATION OF LABOR AND CONGRESS OF INDUSTRIAL ORGANIZATIONS (KENTUCKY AFL-CIO): Eric M. Lamb.

OPINION

Page 159

AFFIRMING

Appellant, Jackson W. Watts, appeals from a Court of Appeals decision which affirmed an order of the Workers' Compensation Board regarding the attorney fee he is entitled to for representing claimant, Loretta Langford.[1] Watts argues that an interlocutory proceeding in a workers' compensation case, specifically a medical fee dispute, should be considered separate from a claim for income benefits and therefore not subject to the statutory cap on attorney fees provided in KRS 342.320(2)(a). For the below stated reasons, we affirm the Court of Appeals.

On March 21, 2005, Langford suffered a work-related back injury while employed by the Danville Housing Authority. Her treating physician recommended she undergo a fusion surgery on her spine, but the Housing Authority denied the proposed surgery. Langford timely filed a medical fee dispute and filed a Form 101 Application for Resolution of Injury Claim. Watts represented Langford during the proceeding. The Chief Administrative Law Judge (" CALJ" ) bifurcated the claim to first decide the issues related to the proposed surgery.

On February 20, 2008, the CALJ entered an interlocutory opinion, award, and order finding that the fusion surgery was necessary for treatment of the work-related injury. The CALJ then placed the remainder of Langford's claim in abeyance pending the outcome of the surgery. Langford received more than $72,000 in temporary total occupational disability (" TTD" ) benefits as a result of the interlocutory order. Once Langford reached maximum medical improvement (" MMI" ), the claim was returned to the active docket, and the parties reached a settlement for a sum of $175,000, which included a waiver of future medical expense benefits.

After the settlement, Watts filed two motions for approval of attorney fees. The first motion requested approval of $12,000 for work performed in obtaining the lump sum payment, and the second motion requested approval of $8,369.19 for work performed in obtaining the TTD and medical benefits which Langford recovered from the interlocutory award. The CALJ granted Watts's motion for $12,000 in attorney fees but denied the motion for $8,369.19 in fees. The CALJ reasoned that KRS 342.320(2)(a) caps attorney fees to a total of $12,000. That statute states in pertinent part:

( 2) In an original claim, attorney's fees for services under this chapter on behalf of an employee shall be subject to the following maximum limits:
(a) Twenty percent (20%) of the first twenty-five thousand dollars ($25,000) of the award, fifteen percent (15%) of the next ten thousand dollars ($10,000), and five percent (5%) of the remainder of the award, not to exceed a maximum fee of twelve thousand dollars ($12,000). This fee ...

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