If you have suffered a significant work-related injury or illness, it’s natural to wonder what’s going to happen during the course of your workers compensation claim, as well as whether you need a lawyer to ensure a just and proper outcome.
Pro tip: If you’re wondering whether you need to hire a workers comp lawyer, you probably do. Workers compensation claims can be a long line of legal pitfalls that prevent you from receiving all the benefits to which you are entitled.
While workers comp law is complex, hiring the right lawyer to represent you and manage your claim doesn’t have to be. This does not mean you contact the next firm whose advertisement pops up on your social media, during a TV commercial break, or on a billboard. Glitz has its place, probably, but it’s substance that wins the workers comp race.
What this means: Getting a good workers compensation lawyer, one who’s right for you, takes a bit of effort. Not to worry: Use our tips, and you got this.
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How to Select a Workers Comp Attorney
For starters, because workers compensation is a complicated and nuanced subset of law, focus only on lawyers who specialize in workers comp law. Avoid the dabblers, the occasional practitioners, the ones who do workers comp if there’s nothing else going on.
“Just as you wouldn’t go to a pediatrician for a toothache, you wouldn’t ask a family law attorney to handle a workers’ comp case,” says Juan Dominguez, who heads a Los Angeles-based personal injury firm.
There are worse places to start than firsthand experiences. Have relatives, friends, neighbors, or coworkers retained workers comp attorneys? Were their experiences positive?
Check with the local bar association for a list of workers comp lawyers in your area. Search “workers comp lawyers near me” on the web. Also, you can fill out the form on our website, and we can connect you with a workers comp lawyer in your area.
Once you’ve narrowed the field to a few “experts in workers comp,” drill deeper. What you want to know includes:
- Years of experience representing injured workers. You want someone who knows the ropes and players, as well as how cases involving injuries such as yours have been resolved.
- How much of their practice is taken up by workers comp? Rule out those who are not routinely involved in workers comp cases.
- What professional (legal) organizations do they belong to? Local and state workers comp bars keep their members up-to-date on the latest developments in their practice area.
- What have they written, published, or presented (articles, blog posts, videos) about workers comp law?
- Are there news articles about them?
- Have they earned professional accolades in the area of workers comp? You’ll get an idea of how good they are at their work.
- Are there testimonials from past workers comp clients?
Where to Find Reviews for Workers Comp Lawyers
For better or worse, nothing goes unreviewed in our internet/social media world. This does not mean all reviews are created equally.
Yes, Yelp is fun, Reddit can be diverting, and NextDoor is a marvelous place for lightly moderated gossip. But for experienced legal counsel to see you though this difficult patch, it’s best to confine your search to reliable, competent sites with verified reviews.
Among these sites are the Better Business Bureau and Avvo. Each provides ratings and contact information. Avvo also includes verified commentary and reviews, and links to the attorney’s site.
Now, do a bit of digging. “Go to the individual’s website,” Dominguez said. “Does it look professional? Is it up to date? If the firm’s website looks like it hasn’t been updated in a while, that can be a red flag. Quality law firms invest in professional-looking websites nowadays.”
No matter how impressed you are with a lawyer’s credentials, make certain you know whether complaints have been lodged against them.
Every state bar has a disciplinary committee that investigates claims of unethical behavior across all practice areas. Search the attorneys who interest you on the state bar’s website for reports of disciplinary action or license suspensions (or revocations).
Drop your lawyers’ names into your favorite search engine for news reports about the attorney or the attorney’s firm.
What to Look for During the Consultation
Once you have your list of candidates, set up at least a small handful of consultations — three, minimum. Consultations are typically free. They last anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour, and are an opportunity for learning.
You’ll have questions for the workers comp lawyers. So will your prospective counselors. Included in what a good workers comp attorney will ask about:
- A brief biography, including work experience.
- What happened that resulted in your injury or illness?
- When did it happen (or when did you become aware of your work-related illness/condition)?
- Were there any unusual circumstances leading up to the incident?
- Were you trained in the job you were performing at the time?
- Does your job require specific licenses and/or certifications? If so, do you have them? Are they current?
- Were there witnesses?
- Can you provide evidence (photographs from the scene, witness statements)?
- Have you reported your injury/illness to your employer? When?
- What documentation do you have from your employer and/or workers comp insurer?
- Have you posted anything about your injury on social media? (If not, good. If so, take it down.)
- What sort of hobbies or recreational activities outside of work do you pursue? This is important information if you had been active in athletics or other activities that can put strains on your body.
“If you play in a softball league and your work accident involves an injured shoulder, your employer’s workers comp insurance company may try to pin your injury on that instead,” Dominguez said. “A good workers comp attorney will not wait to be surprised by defense counsel.”
Be wary of workers comp lawyers who are slow to respond or difficult to reach during the consultation period — that is, before they have been retained. “That,” Dominguez says, “is a clear indication of how you’ll be treated as a client.”
Another red flag: You’re asked to do something unethical, such as misrepresent your injury or fudge the truth in any other way. Inflating your trauma in hopes of a big payout may make an amusing plot device for a movie, but this isn’t Hollywood.
Where to Get Free Legal Advice for Workers Compensation
Typically, consultations with lawyers are free. If it’s time well spent, you will emerge with a good sense of your top concerns.
- Is your case worth pursuing?
- What will be involved?
- How long will it take?
- Should I expect a settlement?
- How long will I have medical benefits?
- Will things go bad for me when, or if, I return to work?
Check in, too, with your state’s workers compensation board. Established by the legislature, workers compensation boards oversee all workers comp claims and administer claims for benefits. The primary objective of the state boards is to protect the rights of those injured or sickened on the job.
However, state legal boards are not in the business of providing legal advice.
Additionally, many states operate employee assistance offices (EAO), an arm of the state’s workers compensation division. EAOs are designed to help prevent and resolve disputes between injured workers and employers/insurers.
Generally, EAOs provide the following services:
- Education and information about your claim.
- Assistance in resolving your claim, at no cost.
- Assistance with understanding procedures for filing a Petition for Benefits.
Again, what you receive from government agencies is legal information, but not legal advice. Employees at workers comp boards and EAOs can answer questions about how, where, when, what, and who. Questions that begin “Why … ?” or “Should I … ?” are outside their authority.
Those are the questions your well-researched, experienced, good-fitting workers comp attorney will gladly answer.
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.