Impact Analysis of California Legislation AB 2294 on Applicant Attorneys and Injured Workers
November 2, 2023
Assembly Bill 2294 (AB 2294) marked a significant shift in California’s Workers’ Compensation system when it was signed into law in 2016. While the legislation aimed to address critical issues within the California Workers’ Compensation system, it also brought about negative unintended consequences and challenges for Los Angeles workers comp attorneys and injured workers. This analysis will provide insights into AB 2294 from the perspectives of both applicant lawyers and their clients, highlighting the negative impacts this legislation had on stakeholders.
Background on AB 2294
AB 2294 was introduced as a reform to improve various aspects of California’s Workers’ Compensation system. The legislation had several goals, including:
- Enhancing Medical Provider Networks (MPNs);
- Combatting medical fraud;
- Streamlining utilization review (UR);
- Updating fee schedules;
- Increasing transparency.
While these objectives aimed to create a more equitable and efficient system, their implementation had significant negative repercussions for applicant attorneys and injured workers, while benefiting insurance carriers.
Impact on Applicant Attorneys
Reduced Legal Disputes
One of the central intentions behind AB 2294 was to streamline processes and reduce disputes within the Workers’ Compensation system. While this objective had merits, it had negative implications for applicant attorneys:
- Reduced Legal Fees: With fewer disputes and legal battles, applicant attorneys faced a decline in the number of cases that required their services. This translated into reduced legal fees and income.
- Challenges in Generating Revenue: AB 2294’s emphasis on efficiency and transparency inadvertently created an environment where applicant attorneys found it increasingly challenging to generate revenue from Workers’ Compensation cases.
Reduced Opportunities for Litigation
Prior to AB 2294, applicant attorneys had the opportunity to advocate for injured workers in disputes related to medical treatment, benefit denials, and other aspects of the work injury claims process. However, the legislation’s focus on reducing disputes meant that:
- Fewer Legal Challenges: AB 2294 succeeded in reducing disputes, but this also translated to fewer opportunities for applicant attorneys to represent injured workers in legal challenges. Many applicant attorneys believe the bill’s intention was to try and eliminate the services of applicant attorneys.
- Impact on Legal Practice: As legal disputes became less frequent, applicant attorneys had to adapt their legal practice areas, potentially diversifying into other fields or facing reduced income. Reduced income was a big problem and one of the most negative outcomes of this legislation since lawyers’ and applicant attorneys’ fees were cut by over a third while the cost of doing business remained the same.
Impact on Income and Sustainability
The reduced caseload and revenue stream resulting from AB 2294 had significant implications for the income and sustainability of applicant attorneys’ practices:
- Financial Strain: Many applicant attorneys faced financial strain due to decreased income, potentially leading to layoffs, downsizing, or closures of legal practices. In fact, this particular piece of legislation deterred new lawyers from entering the Worker’s Compensation field. In turn, this left injured workers with little to no options to find an experienced Worker’s Compensation lawyer in smaller areas throughout the state of California.
- Challenges in Serving Clients: Reduced resources meant that applicant attorneys could face difficulties in providing the level of service that injured workers needed and deserved. Assembly Bill 2294 essentially forced many applicant attorney law firms to rely on volume in order to stay in business, which in many cases caused service and communication with their clients to decline.
Impact on Injured Workers
Challenges in Legal Representation
AB 2294 inadvertently created challenges for injured workers seeking legal representation:
- Limited Access to Legal Support: The decrease in legal disputes meant that injured workers had limited opportunities to secure legal representation, potentially leaving them without advocates in complex cases.
- Difficulty in Asserting Rights: Some injured workers faced difficulties in asserting their rights within the Workers’ Compensation system without legal guidance, potentially leading to unfavorable outcomes.
This bill was extremely damaging to the Worker’s Compensation system, making it almost impossible for injured workers to represent themselves. It forced more people to look for the services of Workers’ Compensation lawyers. However, because of reduced fees, many applicant lawyers refused to take smaller cases due to concerns of lack of profitability compared to the amount of work spent, especially in stress cases and psychological injuries.
The impact of AB 2294 on injured workers’ compensation was mixed:
- Efficiency vs. Adequate Compensation: While AB 2294 streamlined processes and expedited medical treatment decisions, it also inadvertently put pressure on achieving efficiency at the expense of ensuring that injured workers received adequate compensation.
- Potential for Lower Benefits: Some injured workers experienced lower Workers’ Compensation benefits due to the legislation’s focus on cost containment and efficiency.
It is a widespread opinion that this Senate Bill was written with every intention of making it more difficult for applicant attorneys to operate and navigate the system, as well as to deny injured workers essential medical treatment.
Additionally, it gave insurance companies more leeway to restrict medical provider networks to doctors aligned with the insurance company’s interests, primarily out of motivation for their own financial benefit.
This course was a devastating blow to injured workers as the list of doctors who would advocate for their losses became virtually nonexistent, mainly due to the medical provider networks bullying the doctors into following rules that were not advantageous to injured workers.
Challenges in Navigating the System
AB 2294 introduced changes that made navigating the Workers’ Compensation system more challenging for injured workers:
- Complex Processes: The legislation’s emphasis on efficiency and transparency introduced new complexities into the claims process, causing confusion among injured workers.
- Navigational Hurdles: Injured workers faced hurdles in navigating the system, from understanding their rights to accessing appropriate medical care and benefits.
Unintended Consequences and Challenges
Reduced Deterrence for Employers and Insurers
While AB 2294 aimed to balance the interests of all stakeholders, it inadvertently reduced the deterrence effect on employers and insurers:
- Reduced Liability Concerns: With fewer disputes and legal challenges, employers and insurers faced reduced liability concerns, diminishing their incentive to prioritize safety and fairness in the workplace.
- Impact on Injured Workers: The reduced deterrence effect led to challenges for injured workers in holding employers accountable for unsafe working conditions.
Senate Bill 2294 was essentially written by insurance companies who heavily lobbied to pass it into legislation, while the injured workers in California ended up suffering immensely from the outcomes of this lopsided decision.
Potential for Unequal Bargaining Power
AB 2294’s focus on efficiency and streamlining processes may have shifted the balance of bargaining power away from injured workers:
- Limited Negotiation Leverage: With fewer opportunities for legal disputes and negotiations, injured workers had limited leverage to secure favorable outcomes in Workers’ Compensation claims. For lack of better words, the bill added more hoops for injured workers and applicant attorneys to jump through in order to get timely medical care and fair financial settlement.
- Potential for Inequality: The legislation may have inadvertently contributed to an unequal playing field, where injured workers faced challenges in asserting their rights against employers and insurers.
AB 2294: Consequences & Future Considerations
Assembly Bill 2294, while allegedly well-intentioned in its efforts to reform California’s Workers’ Compensation system, had significant negative impacts on applicant attorneys and injured workers. The legislation inadvertently reduced legal disputes, limited opportunities for legal representation, and, in most Work Injury claims, resulted in lower compensation for injured workers.
Clearly, this legislation was geared to significantly shift the scales of power towards the insurance companies. Ever since this legislation was passed, applicant attorneys have been advocating to try and create a more equitable Worker’s Compensation environment in the state of California.
However, the legislators have not been open to making modifications. In fact, Governor Jerry Brown vetoed legislation that would have been a huge help and a step in the right direction for injured workers and the applicant attorneys that represent them.
As California’s Workers’ Compensation system continues to evolve, policymakers and stakeholders must consider the unintended consequences of AB 2294 and work toward a balanced approach that prioritizes efficiency.
At the same time, they should recognize that this legislation was a result of the insurance companies lobbying the state legislature in order to increase their profits, primarily by decreasing the quality of care and the ability of injured workers to receive fair and adequate compensation and representation.
Where in Los Angeles can I find a seasoned workers comp attorney?
With the introduction of AB 2294 and similar legislations on a regular basis, navigating the complex landscape of California work comp system becomes more difficult by the day. The insurance companies’ decks are stacked against you, their lawyers are ruthless and aggressive, and the laws work in their favor.
Fortunately, there is an effective way to counter their advances and get the compensation that you rightfully deserve: turning to unyielding, ethical, and experienced attorneys at California Worker’s Compensation Lawyers, APC. Reach out to us today for a free, initial consultation via telephone or any video conferencing platform. Even better, schedule an appointment and visit us at our headquarters located in Westchester, Los Angeles for a comprehensive breakdown of your options and strategies that will help you reach your goals.