It isn’t unusual for people who are hurt on the job to try and handle the workers’ compensation process without legal help. They believe the process is a simple one and they don’t want to add expensive workers’ comp attorney fees to their mounting costs.
Workers’ comp attorneys don’t require a retainer or payment upfront the way those practicing in other areas of the law do. Instead, they work on ‘contingency’, meaning that their payment is contingent on your winning your case. An attorney knows how the workers’ comp laws work in your state. Injured workers often find out too late that the system doesn’t always favor the side of the employee.
Reasons You Need a Workers’ Comp Attorney
No one wants to pay for something they don’t need, including legal services. What you don’t realize is that your lack of knowledge could cost you your entire case. From the time your injury occurs, you are on a timer. You have a certain amount of time to report your injury to your employer and to file a workers’ comp claim. To further complicate matters, the ‘statute of limitations’ differs in every state. Failing to meet these deadlines can cause you to lose your rights to receive benefits.
Another reason you need an attorney is to defend yourself against your employer and the insurance company. The insurance company is responsible for paying you but it can cost your employer as well. Ideally, companies would recognize the value of their employees and want to take care of them. Too often, this isn’t the case. As a result, either your employer or their insurance company might try to keep you from getting the benefits you deserve.
How Contingency Plans Help Your Attorney Help You
By not requiring workers’ comp attorney fees upfront, attorneys make it easier to fight for the benefits you deserve and need. They also make it less of a gamble to get legal advice. Most attorneys only collect fees when they win your case. If you don’t win, you don’t have to pay. Working on contingency gives you one less thing to worry about.
The types of injuries considered work-related and the compensation you can receive aren’t the only things that vary from state-to-state. There are also laws in some states limiting how much attorneys can charge. In some states, the judge hearing a case approves the attorney’s fees based on the complexity of the case and how much time and effort went into it. Most states have caps that limit the amount an attorney can charge.
Every injured employee doesn’t need to hire a workers’ comp attorney. Those with serious injuries or complex cases do. The insurance company is more likely to try to disprove your case if it has a high value and/or it is challenging for you to prove.
When you don’t win your case, you don’t have to pay your attorney. If you do win, the fees are set as a percentage of your total benefits. Most fees are fixed at 10% to 20% although some states have higher caps and others don’t have caps at all. In any case, the fees for your attorney will only come out of a settlement for your case and never out of your pocket. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t discuss fees with an attorney before they take your case. You might even be able to negotiate a lower rate. Even though you don’t have to pay unless you win a settlement, you don’t want to make an agreement that is unreasonable.
Although you don’t have to pay the workers’ comp attorney fees upfront, there are some other expenses that aren’t part of the basic agreement. The attorney will probably pay for these as needed but some expect you to reimburse them for these charges whether you win or lose. Ask the attorney what expenses you’ll be responsible for if they lose your case. Some charges commonly added to the attorney’s fees include:
- Depositions – Everyone who gives testimony will have to make a deposition prior to the hearing.
- Medical Records – Fees for obtaining copies of all your medical records pertinent to your claim.
- Independent Medical Examinations– If you dispute your treating doctor’s report on your injury or disability, when you can return, or your need for future medical treatment, an independent medical examination can go a long way to helping your case.
- Travel Expenses– If your attorney travels to file documents, attend depositions, or any other task related to your case, you are responsible for their travel expenses.
- Clerical Costs – Copying documents, postage costs, etc.
- Filing Your Claim – There are fees for filing your workers’ comp claim and other court costs in addition to the attorney’s fees.
Are You Covered Under Workers’ Comp?
Everyone who works at a job for pay isn’t covered by workers’ comp. For example, contractors and service providers often bring their own equipment to the work site. They use their skills to provide a service to various clients and aren’t employed by a single person or company. An example that is more well-known might be that of Uber and Lyft drivers. These companies consider their drivers ‘independent contractors’. The companies aren’t required to carry workers’ comp for their workers even though they are at a high risk of getting injured.
Workers’ comp attorney fees don’t directly reflect the quality of representation you can expect. Although attorneys typically get more for complex cases, no attorney can get your claim approved if you don’t qualify. The challenge is to prove that your injury is work-related. If either of those facts doesn’t apply, then you aren’t going to win your case regardless of how much you pay.
What Makes a Workers’ Comp Case More Complex?
The insurance company doesn’t want to pay your claim. There are several tactics they commonly use to prevent paying you any benefits. Depending on the nature of your injury, they may dispute whether your injury resulted from your work. If the accident that caused your injury was obvious and you have witnesses to testify on your behalf, proving it isn’t difficult. On the other hand, injuries that are out-of-sight or which manifest gradually over time are more difficult to define. The more evidence you can collect to prove when and how your injury occurred, the better your chances will be of winning your case.
Failing to meet deadlines for reporting your injury and filing a claim can also complicate your case. In fact, you could lose your benefits altogether. Your attorney knows the laws in your state and he also knows the exceptions that could apply to your case. In some cases, you may be able to sue your employer for compensation. When your case goes to court, you can expect all of the related fees to be higher than if you settle out of court.
When Your Claim Is Denied
It is the insurance company that decides whether to approve or deny your workers’ comp claim. If your claim is denied, it doesn’t mean you are out of options. You have the right to appeal the decision. The appeals process also differs from state-to-state.
In Maryland, the injured worker can request a hearing before the state’s Workers’ Compensation Commission. You must file a claim with the state and request a hearing. The trial will be held before an independent commissioner who is unbiased in your case. You and your employer’s insurance company will present evidence and the commissioner will decide in your favor or that of the other side.
Both you and the insurance company have thirty days from the end of the hearing to further appeal your case to the Circuit Court. This appeal may be for a denied claim or a dispute over the awards of benefits made to you.
Having an attorney to represent you during any stage of the workers’ comp claim is a necessity to protect your rights. Any area of the process is open to challenge by the other side. Even if you have won your claim for benefits, issues like your ability to return to work can become an issue. You need someone who knows the state’s laws and the tactics used to discredit your claim to defend your rights.
An injured employee should never attempt to handle their workers’ comp claim on their own. Insurance companies love employees who handle their own case. They know that their job of disputing the employee’s claim is going to be much easier.
Workers’ comp is your right as an employee and it is your employer’s responsibility to obtain coverage. A work-related injury can prevent you from being able to work and earn an income for a little while, the rest of your life, or anywhere in-between.
All injuries are not covered under workers’ comp but you can’t rely on the insurance company to pay benefits for those that are. The only way to determine if you have a valid case is by talking with a workers’ comp attorney. If you do, getting professional representation is well worth the price.
Start with the Consultation
Workers’ comp claims are very confusing to the victim, who has no previous knowledge of how the process works. Most people have no idea of whether they have a legitimate claim or not. Sometimes they accept the decision of a denied claim without knowing the reason for the denial or their right to appeal the decision.
Most workers’ comp attorneys offer a free initial consultation to evaluate your case. This is your chance to find out if you have a valid claim without paying anything for the appointment. It’s also a good way to learn more about the process, the potential outcomes for your claim, and your rights within the law.
Take all the evidence you have with you to the appointment. This includes the initial injury report, medical records, and any witness information for anyone that saw the accident occur. Even if you’ve already filed a claim and had it denied, you can benefit from a consultation to discuss your case. An experienced attorney can tell you the reason for the denial. They will also tell you whether appealing the case is in your best interest.
Use the consultation to ask about the workers’ comp attorney fees and how the lawyer bills clients. Keep in mind that having an experienced attorney on your side will probably result in your getting more benefits that you would on your own. Although a percentage of your award will go to the attorney, you’ll likely end up with a much better settlement.
Get the Right Attorney for the Job
Attorneys who handle personal injury and workers’ comp cases don’t just differ in how they collect their fees. They also have the experience and skills to make them experts in this area of the law. Workers’ comp laws are complex and they vary by state. Just one mistake can make the difference in the outcome of your claim. An attorney who has handled many cases like yours knows how to get the best outcome on your behalf.
People sometimes make the mistake of believing that the lawyer who handles all their business or personal legal issues is the best choice for their workers’ comp case. Only an attorney who specializes in workers’ comp law knows what it takes to win. If they have a high success rate from their previous cases, your chances of winning are much greater.
Winning your workers’ comp case is important to you and everyone who counts on you. Even if you only miss work for a short time, your medical bills can quickly add up on top of your regular monthly bills.
If you have been injured at work or your workers’ comp claim is denied, contact Ingerman & Horwitz LLP today. Schedule a free consultation or give us a call. We are here to answer your questions about the workers’ compensation process. Let us help you get the benefits you need to fulfill your financial obligations while you heal.