20 CFR § 725.367 - Payment of a claimant's attorney's fee by responsible operator or fund.

prev next
§ 725.367 Payment of a claimant's attorney's fee by responsible operator or fund.

(a) An attorney who represents a claimant in the successful prosecution of a claim for benefits may be entitled to collect a reasonable attorney's fee from the responsible operator that is ultimately found liable for the payment of benefits, or, in a case in which there is no operator who is liable for the payment of benefits, from the fund. Generally, the operator or fund liable for the payment of benefits shall be liable for the payment of the claimant's attorney's fees where the operator or fund, as appropriate, took action, or acquiesced in action, that created an adversarial relationship between itself and the claimant. The fees payable under this section shall include reasonable fees for necessary services performed prior to the creation of the adversarial relationship. Circumstances in which a successful attorney's fees shall be payable by the responsible operator or the fund include, but are not limited to, the following:

(1) The responsible operator designated by the district director (see § 725.410(a)(3)) fails to accept the claimant's entitlement to benefits within the 30-day period provided by § 725.412(b) and is ultimately determined to be liable for benefits. The operator shall be liable for an attorney's fee with respect to all necessary services performed by the claimant's attorney;

(2) There is no operator that may be held liable for the payment of benefits, and the district director issues a schedule for the submission of additional evidence under § 725.410. The fund shall be liable for an attorney's fee with respect to all necessary services performed by the claimant's attorney;

(3) The claimant submits a bill for medical treatment, and the party liable for the payment of benefits declines to pay the bill on the grounds that the treatment is unreasonable, or is for a condition that is not compensable. The responsible operator or fund, as appropriate, shall be liable for an attorney's fee with respect to all necessary services performed by the claimant's attorney;

(4) A beneficiary seeks an increase in the amount of benefits payable, and the responsible operator or fund contests the claimant's right to that increase. If the beneficiary is successful in securing an increase in the amount of benefits payable, the operator or fund shall be liable for an attorney's fee with respect to all necessary services performed by the beneficiary's attorney;

(5) The responsible operator or fund seeks a decrease in the amount of benefits payable. If the beneficiary is successful in resisting the request for a decrease in the amount of benefits payable, the operator or fund shall be liable for an attorney's fee with respect to all necessary services performed by the beneficiary's attorney. A request for information clarifying the amount of benefits payable shall not be considered a request to decrease that amount.

(b) Any fee awarded under this section shall be in addition to the award of benefits, and shall be awarded, in an order, by the district director, administrative law judge, Board or court, before whom the work was performed. The operator or fund shall pay such fee promptly and directly to the claimant's attorney in a lump sum after the award of benefits becomes final.

(c) Section 205(a) of the Black Lung Benefits Amendments of 1981, Public Law 97-119, amended section 422 of the Act and relieved operators and carriers from liability for the payment of benefits on certain claims. Payment of benefits on those claims was made the responsibility of the fund. The claims subject to this transfer of liability are described in § 725.496. On claims subject to the transfer of liability described in this paragraph the fund will pay all fees and costs which have been or will be awarded to claimant's attorneys which were or would have become the liability of an operator or carrier but for the enactment of the 1981 Amendments and which have not already been paid by such operator or carrier. Section 9501(d)(7) of the Internal Revenue Code (26 U.S.C.), which was also enacted as a part of the 1981 Amendments to the Act, expressly prohibits the fund from reimbursing an operator or carrier for any attorney fees or costs which it has paid on cases subject to the transfer of liability provisions.