If you’ve ever heard someone talk about starting a business, you might’ve heard the old adage, “You have to spend money to make money.” That’s part of the cost of doing business.
But if you’ve been injured at work and you’re someone else’s employee, you shouldn’t have to spend too much money in order to get the compensation you deserve after a workplace injury or work-related illness.
The crux of the workers’ compensation system is this:
Every state requires employers to carry workers’ compensation insurance. Each state’s laws are slightly different with respect to the exact requirements and the administration of benefits, but the basis for workers’ compensation is the same in every state. Workers’ comp covers your medical expenses related to the injury and lost wages if the injury resulted in your taking time off from work or if you can’t return to your previous position.
This sounds pretty straightforward — like you should simply be able to submit some forms and receive the coverage you need. But unfortunately, as with many things, it can be more complicated than you’d expect, especially if there are questions about the severity of your injury or if there’s any question about whether or not it happened while you were working.
If you’re not sure if the benefits package or settlement offer is enough, or if it includes the full amount you think you’re owed, it’s wise to consult a knowledgeable and experienced workers’ compensation lawyer.
Here are just a few examples of situations when a workers’ compensation lawyer might be necessary:
Even if none of these situations applies, a workers’ compensation lawyer can provide a tremendous benefit as you navigate your claim. Primarily, a workers’ compensation claim involves a lot of paperwork — forms and deadlines galore!
Completing a form incorrectly or missing a deadline can be what prevents you from recovering much-needed benefits to pay for your medical bills and put food on the table. There’s also evidence that can support your claim that might not be obvious, and your lawyer will help present the evidence to your state workers’ compensation board in a way that’s helpful to your case.
Finally, if you don’t successfully recover benefits right away and need to appeal, the right lawyer will already be familiar with your case and be able to represent you during a court hearing or trial.
So let’s say you’re convinced that hiring a lawyer is in your best interest, but now you might be worried about the expense of getting a lawyer to handle your workers’ compensation claim, especially when your benefits are only a percentage of your previous wages in the first place.
For starters, it’s important to know this fact:
Most personal injury lawyers work on a contingency fee basis, and workers’ compensation cases are similar. When you’re awarded damages or a settlement, your lawyer receives an agreed-upon percentage of the amount you recover.
In a traditional personal injury case, most lawyers will charge around 33% of your damages. For example, if you were in a car accident and your damage award is $50,000, you would owe your lawyer about $16,500. That leaves you with about $33,500 as your “take home.”
Most workers’ compensation lawyers’ percentages are significantly lower than personal injury lawyers, but it might be higher if your case is complex. The contingency fee will ultimately depend on how your case is resolved, which types of benefits are recovered, or the amount of an award.
Some states put a limit (or “cap”) on how much a workers’ compensation attorney is allowed to charge a client.
If your workers’ compensation lawyer charges an hourly fee, there might be a cap on how much they can charge per hour. There might be a cap on overall expenses, too. For example, if the lawyer charges $100 per hour, they might be capped at 20% of the total settlement regardless of how many hours were spent on the claim.
Here are a few examples of states with fee caps in place:
In New York, the Workers’ Compensation Law Judge sets the amount of the fee, which will usually be 10%-15% of the total award. Your attorney is paid at the time of the award as a deduction from your benefits. You might have to pay for your own legal fees if you do not win the case.
Florida fees are 20% of the first $5,000 in benefits, 15% of the next $5,000, and then 5%-10% of any remaining amount.
In California, the judge will approve a fee of 10%, 12% or 15%.
A New Jersey workers’ compensation lawyer receives 20% of the claimant’s total payout.
In addition to the attorney’s fees, you might need to pay some other fees related to your claim. These costs might include:
Usually, these fees are in addition to those included in a fee agreement you sign with your lawyer. The law firm will often pay them as they come up, but you’ll ultimately be required to reimburse them for the costs. Sometimes you’re responsible for paying these costs even if you don’t win the case.
Surveys show that having a lawyer increases the average amount of a workers’ compensation plaintiff’s payout by about $5,000 and reduces the amount of time to reach a settlement by about 5 months.
Aside from managing the paperwork and deadlines, the right workers’ compensation lawyer will make sure that you have a good diagnosis and prognosis for your degree of injury or disability, even if that means making sure you get a second opinion from another doctor.
Other benefits to having a lawyer manage your workers’ compensation claim include:
Ultimately, only you can make that decision based on your unique situation. But you should know that most workers’ compensation lawyers offer a free initial consultation. During this first meeting, a lawyer should be able to give you some idea about the costs of hiring them, though it might not be absolute. Your lawyer might need additional time to do research and look more closely at your claim in order to get a more accurate estimate based on the complexity of your case.
Here are some additional resources for finding the right workers’ compensation lawyer for your claim: