California Copy Fee Schedule
CALIFORNIA’S NEW COPY FEE SCHEDULE
In an era of overreaching government, we should expect bad laws and stupid regulations, but the recent workers compensation appeals board’s reach into the litigation support fee schedules is at least misguided and quite possibly toxic to the fair representation of citizens in California. As a consultant to the record retrieval industry and software designer, I have seen many sides to this issue and the effort and technology that are required to properly provide the required records. To understand the costs, we have to take a short look at the process of record retrieval.
The first step in providing records is to create a set of subpoenas with proper notices to opposing parties. This must be completed in some cases with a built in waiting period so the noticed parties can respond. Once the subpoena is issued and served, another waiting period is required for the facility to collect and provide the records. In some cases a third party is responsible for that aspect of the job and an extra charge is added to the cost of documents beyond the state mandated $15.00 witness fee. This extra charge can be between $40.00 and $100.00 or more. There is not room in the proposed fee schedule to deal with these fees. Once the documents are obtained, (normally by scanning each document by hand), the images must handled with extreme care. HIPAA laws require that the documents be released only to authorized parties in the case. Currently, this is done through password protected secure websites. To sum up initial stages of a case, you have the following expenses required to obtain the records, First setup and printing of the subpoena packages, mailing or hand delivery of the notices to interested parties, then mailing or hand service of the subpoenas to each facility. Then you need to track and manage the job while you wait for the records to be collected. Finally, you need to travel back to the facility to copy/collect the requested records. Hard costs include witness fees, postage, gas, paper, insurance and the like. Soft costs include the manpower, software, hardware and management to keep the process moving along.
In each case there are two parties, the plaintiff and defendant. Within the workers compensation world the plaintiff attorney represents the injured party, while the defense represents the insured. Some have proposed that the two parties just share their documents. This won’t work since the plaintiff is attempting to prove injury while the defense is attempting to limit the scope and/or costs incurred. Some have said the if the plaintiff counsel had to pay for the documents that would help limit the costs, though probably true, it would also have a chilling effect on the ability of people to obtain representation since attorney’s would have to limit their cases based on cash flow.
Finally, we have the payment problem. Currently, a case is filed and the plaintiff attorney orders records. The costs incurred in collecting the records are not paid in a timely manner, forcing the plaintiff attorney service to seek recovery of their expenses over an extended time period, in some cases months but in many cases years are required to collect their fees. That state claims that the new fee schedule will cut the waiting period for payment, but if the fees do not recover the costs in obtaining the records, speed of payment will not make up for a loss.
Originally, the thought was if we standardize the fee schedule it will cut costs of litigation, but the proposed schedule is even lowering the already rock bottom charges from the defense side of the case. This new schedule is like stepping off a cliff. We need to step back and reconsider how we can properly cover the reasonable costs of obtaining records, while still looking to improve the payment turnaround time that only adds expense to an already expensive industry.
The currently proposed fee schedule is flawed and will cripple plaintiff workers compensation litigation in California. If that is the goal, then we are well on our way. Finally, we need to question the whole concept of governmental price fixing and this assault on our ability to seek just compensation for our injuries. Please contact the board to reconsider this flawed plan.