You might not have to spend a lot of money to receive what you already deserve
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.
When do you need a workers’ compensation lawyer?
Here are just a few examples of situations when a workers’ compensation lawyer might be necessary:
- Your employer’s insurance is denying the claim or refuses to pay your benefits.
- Your injury is because of a third party’s negligence.
- Your employer was grossly negligent or engaged in misconduct that caused your injury.
- You intend to apply for Social Security benefits as a result of your workplace injury.
- You’re unable to return to work because of the injury, or you can’t return in your previous capacity.
- You experience workplace retaliation after filing a workers’ compensation claim.
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.
How much does a workers’ compensation lawyer cost?
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 workers’ compensation lawyers are paid between 10% and 20% of a settlement or award.
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.
Caps on workers’ compensation fees
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.
Additional costs for a workers’ compensation claim
In addition to the attorney’s fees, you might need to pay some other fees related to your claim. These costs might include:
- Filing fees
- Medical records copying fees
- Costs for physicians who conduct independent medical examinations
- A lawyer’s travel expenses and office costs, like copies and postage
- Deposition costs
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.
Is it worth it to get a workers’ compensation lawyer?
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.
Because of the increased amount of payouts, the plaintiffs surveyed still fared better (that is, ended up with higher benefits) even after paying attorney fees.
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:
- Your lawyer will work to obtain ALL of the benefits to which you’re entitled. Sometimes the insurance company won’t tell you that you’re allowed to claim certain things, such as mileage reimbursement for doctor visits or vocational rehabilitation.
- Your lawyer will advise you on how to handle an independent medical exam.
- Your lawyer will know how and when to appeal if your benefits are denied.
- Your lawyer can make a persuasive case and handle a hearing if it becomes necessary.
What happens at a hearing?
A hearing might be intimidating. After all, your claim has already been denied once, so there must be some reason why the workers’ compensation administrator thinks you don’t deserve to recover enough benefits.
But that doesn’t make it so.
Your lawyer can present evidence, question witnesses, and make strong legal arguments in order to convince a judge that you’re entitled to a certain amount of benefits.
Your lawyer will also have access to vocational experts who can prove how your injury or disability has restricted your ability to work.
Should you hire a workers’ compensation lawyer?
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:
- Workers’ compensation attorney: When you need to lawyer up
- Workers’ compensation law: Finding the right attorney
- Workers' Compensation
- 10 Telltale Signs of a Bad Workers’ Compensation Attorney
- Carpal Tunnel: A Leading Cause of Occupational Injury
- Common Injuries that Affect Nurses and Other Health Care Professionals
- Common Reasons Workers’ Compensation Claims Are Denied
- Directory of State Workers' Compensation Agencies
- FedEx Employee Injuries & Workers’ Compensation Claims
- Guide to Severance Pay, Unemployment, and Workers’ Comp Claims
- Guide to Social Security Disability Benefits
- H2S Exposure Illnesses & Workers’ Compensation
- Health Care Workers Are Suffering From Mental Health Issues
- Hearing and Vision Loss in the Workplace
- How Much Does A Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Cost?
- How to Prepare for a Workers’ Comp Doctor Evaluation
- How to Prevent Cold Work Injuries
- How To Prove Workplace Defamation & Sue for Damages
- How to Report a Workplace Injury
- Lump Sum vs. Lifetime Benefits For Your Workers’ Comp Settlement
- Manhole Injury Lawsuits and Workers’ Compensation
- Repetitive Strain Injuries in the Workplace
- Seeking Financial Compensation for a Firefighter or EMT Injury
- The Most Common Types of Occupational Diseases
- The Most Dangerous Professions in America
- Third-Party Workplace Injury Claims vs. Workers’ Compensation
- Tips for Finding a Skilled Workers' Compensation Lawyer Near You
- Tips to Help Prevent Heat Related Injuries
- What If My Employer Doesn’t Have Workers’ Compensation Insurance?
- What is Hazard Pay, and Who Are Essential Frontline Workers?
- Workers’ Comp for Flight Attendants & Other Airline Employees
- Workers’ Compensation After a Poultry Plant Injury
- Workers’ Compensation For Cell Tower Technicians