There’s no requirement that you have to hire an attorney if you’re injured on the job and filing a claim for workers compensation benefits. But in a lot of cases, you will likely get a better settlement if you do.
The problem, however, is that most people fear they can’t afford an attorney.
How much a workers comp lawyer costs depends on factors that include how complicated your case is, how experienced your attorney is and even what state you live in. Don’t worry that you can’t afford a workers comp lawyer’s fee – you likely won’t have to pay it unless you get a settlement or judgment. And that settlement likely will be higher if you take the plunge and hire an attorney.
“Hiring an attorney might be more necessary in particularly complex cases or those hotly contested by employers or insurance companies,” said Richard Howe, of Howe Law Injury and Accident Lawyers, which has offices in Georgia, Tennessee and Mississippi. “A worker’s compensation case can be denied for minuscule errors in paperwork. Attorneys know how to avoid these errors in the first place.”
He said that an injured worker without an attorney may be no match for the employer and insurance company’s team. “It’s common for the legal teams of employers or insurance companies to take advantage of workers who don’t have an in-depth knowledge of the law, which is why those who do not hire an attorney receive less money on average,” Howe said.
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Some states require workers compensation attorneys to provide a free consultation, but even in state’s where a free consultation isn’t required, most workers compensation law firms won’t charge for that initial meeting. The consultation is a chance for them to gauge whether your case is worth pursuing and for you to find out what may be involved.
Even if a worker pursuing a workers comp case doesn’t plan on hiring a workers comp lawyer, a consultation is a good idea, Howe said.
“It is important for injured workers to at least consult with an attorney about their case before moving forward,” Howe said. “An experienced worker’s compensation lawyer can advise injured workers of their rights and various legal options.”
Workers Comp Lawyer Fees
Most workers comp attorneys charge a contingency fee, which means that the attorney gets paid when the case gets settled. A percentage of the settlement pays the attorney’s fee.
“The client only pays if their lawyer wins the case,” Howe said.
Some states cap how much a workers comp attorney can charge, others have no limit. A lot of other factors come into play in determining a workers comp lawyer fee.
In many states, attorneys are required to get informed consent from their client before agreeing on a fee – in other words, the attorney must tell the client that the fee isn’t set by law, but is negotiable between you and the attorney. Whether informed consent is required or not, the fact that the contingency fee is negotiable is true in states where it is not set by the court. The American Bar Association requires attorneys to explain how their fees work and what and how a client will pay before a representation agreement is signed.
What Percentage Does a Workers Comp Lawyer Get?
Contingency fees are a percentage of the settlement – usually 10-20% in a workers comp case. So, if your settlement is $10,000 and the attorney’s contingency fee is 10%, the attorney will get $1,000 and you will get $9,000.
How much a workers comp lawyer charges depends on the case, the attorney and state law.
“Attorneys in any field, including workers’ compensation, may determine fees based on the situation’s complexity, actual time spent working, and the attorney’s skill level,” Howe said. “An open-and-shut case is probably less expensive than one involving time-consuming work to resolve complex legal questions. A seasoned lawyer will also probably charge more than a recent law school graduate.”
In almost every state, the state’s workers compensation board must approve the attorney fee. In some states – New York and California are two of them – the judge in the case sets the contingency fee if it goes to court. In other states, the fees are capped at a maximum. That doesn’t always mean the attorney can’t charge more. In Illinois, the cap is 20%, but the attorney can go to court and ask the fee be raised if there is extra unexpected work or the client originally had a cash offer to settle the case, then hired a lawyer who negotiated a higher amount.
Additional Legal Expenses
Aside from the contingency fee, win or lose, there are separate legal costs in a workers comp case. These include things like:
- Cost of obtaining and copying medical documents
- Court filing fees
- Paying medical experts to testify on your behalf
- Paying a court reporter for transcripts
- Miscellaneous fees like travel and postage.
Most attorneys will agree to pay these costs up front and then deduct them from the workers comp settlement. The more complicated the case, the more legal costs there are likely to be.
If you lose, your attorney may or may not require you to pay the legal costs out of pocket, or may split them with you. Be sure to have an agreement on how this will work before hiring the attorney.
How Do Workers Comp Lawyers Get Paid?
Once your case is settled, you will have to sign a release form that says you won’t pursue further action in the case. In most cases, your attorney will provide you with the form, then file it with the insurance company, the workers comp board, the court or wherever else it’s required to be filed.
Once that’s done, the insurance company sends the settlement check to your attorney.
The process for getting the check may not be immediate. The insurance company may take a while to process the release, or there may be other bureaucratic red tape. Some states have a deadline – usually 30 or 60 days – for when the settlement must be paid. There are states that even charge interest for each day the check isn’t issued.
Once the check is written, it will go to your attorney’s office. The attorney takes their percentage out, then writes a check to you for the rest.
About The Author
Tom Jackson won dozens of national awards as a columnist for newspapers in Washington, D.C., Sacramento and Tampa. His writing has spread from business to politics to sports with an emphasis on community issues. Tom splits his time between Tampa and Cashiers, N.C. with his wife of 40 years, a college-age son and a yappy Shetland sheepdog named Spencer. Tom can be reached at email@example.com.
- N.A. (ND) How Long Does it Take to Release Settlement Money? Retrieved from https://www.hg.org/legal-articles/how-long-does-it-take-to-receive-settlement-money-30985
- N.A. (ND) State Workers Compensation Laws and Administrations. Retrieved from https://www.nelp.org/workers-comp-law-resources/
- N.A. (2020, April 14) Rule 1.5: Fees. Retrieved from https://www.americanbar.org/groups/professional_responsibility/publications/model_rules_of_professional_conduct/rule_1_5_fees/
- Peacock, W. (ND) 5 Tips for Determining Your Contingency Fees. Retrieved from https://www.clio.com/blog/contingency-fees/