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Sterling v. Mid-Am. Car, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Western District, Second Division

December 23, 2014

LANDON STERLING, Appellant,
v.
MID AMERICA CAR, INC., Respondent

APPEAL FROM THE LABOR AND INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS COMMISSION.

John McKay, for Appellant.

Don A. Peterson, for Respondent.

Before Division Two: Joseph M. Ellis, Presiding, Judge, Victor C. Howard, Judge and Mark D. Pfeiffer, Judge. All concur.

OPINION

Page 474

Joseph M. Ellis, Judge

Appellant Landon Sterling appeals from a final award allowing compensation entered by the Labor and Industrial Relations Commission (" the Commission" ). Appellant contends that the Commission erred in failing to award his counsel a 25% attorney's lien on the $38,462.07 in medical bills that Respondent Mid-America Car, Inc. (" Employer" ) initially denied liability for but subsequently paid after Appellant sought counsel and filed a workers' compensation claim. For the following reasons, we affirm the Commission's award.

On May 12, 2011, Appellant was working for Employer when he burnt his right elbow on hot slag while welding. Appellant informed Employer of the injury but did not seek medical attention on the day of the incident. In the following days, Appellant began experiencing pain and swelling in his arm, but Employer instructed him to keep working. On May 17, 2011, Appellant began vomiting and went to the emergency room. Appellant was subsequently hospitalized for infection and underwent surgery on his elbow. Prior to Appellant's surgery, the hospital contacted Employer and requested payment for Appellant's medical treatment, but Employer refused the claim. As a result of his hospitalization and surgery, Appellant incurred $38,462.07 in medical expenses. Appellant did not pay any of the medical bills related to the injury.

In December 2011, Appellant retained counsel (" Counsel" ) and filed a workers' compensation claim against Employer. In his claim, Appellant alleged that he injured his right elbow in the ordinary course and scope of his employment and was entitled to unpaid medical bills, temporary total disability, permanent partial disability, disfigurement, and possible future medical. Employer admitted that Appellant was its employee but denied all other allegations in Appellant's claim.

In January 2012, Counsel sent Employer a " Notice of Report" to which he attached a copy of Appellant's medical bills. Then, following Employer's deposition of Appellant, Counsel sent a formal settlement offer to Employer outlining Appellant's unpaid medical bills and Appellant's estimated workers' compensation benefits. On March 7, 2012, Employer sent Counsel a fax indicating it intended to pay Appellant's medical bills. Soon thereafter, Counsel sent Employer a letter indicating Counsel's belief that he was entitled to a 25% attorney's lien on " the proceeds" paid by Employer " for medical bills or for any

Page 475

items of compensation." By July 2012, Employer had negotiated with Appellant's medical providers and paid Appellant's $38,462.07 in medical bills at the discounted rate of $18,953.16. Employer paid the $18,953.16 directly to the medical providers and agreed to hold Appellant harmless for any future medical bills related to the injury. Employer, however, did not accept Appellant's settlement offer or recognize Counsel's notification regarding the 25% attorney's lien.

On February 6, 2014, a hearing was held before an administrative law judge (" ALJ" ) to determine Employer's liability and to determine issues pertaining to Counsel's attorney's lien. The parties stipulated that Appellant sustained an injury arising out of and in the course of his employment with Employer and that the $18,953.16 paid by Employer represented the full amount of outstanding medical bills.

The parties further stipulated to the admission of several exhibits, including the attorney-client contract between Appellant and Counsel. The contract states that Appellant agreed to pay Counsel " twenty-five percent (25%) of all gross proceeds including future payments. Medical bills and medical liens are the total responsibility of the client to pay and do not reduce the ...


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