How To Hire A Workers' Compensation Lawyer

You work hard every day to provide for your family, but who is looking out for you if you’re injured on the job? Workers’ compensation laws dating back to the turn of the 20th century require employers to pay for medical bills and lost wages in case an employee is injured on the job. According to the National Safety Council, the cost of workplace injuries exceeds $170 billion annually, including $35 billion in medical care, $52 billion in lost wages, and $58 billion in administrative expenses. Head injuries and amputations are among the most expensive work-related injuries, followed by fractures, burns, and traumatic events. Respiratory illnesses and repetitive strain injuries, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, also fall under the scope of workers’ compensation, although they may take years to develop. In addition to suffering physical hardships, injured workers have to navigate a complex administrative process. While cases may move smoothly if the facts are clear and there are no disputes, things can become very complex very quickly. If you aren’t sure where to start, need a second opinion, or are facing unfair tactics, working with an attorney could be the best way to protect your right to compensation. Follow these steps as you find and hire the right workers’ compensation lawyer for your claim.

  1. Determine whether you need to hire an attorney for your workers’ compensation claim.
  2. Start your search, and look for an attorney with deep experience and a substantial case history in workers’ compensation law.
  3. Check for board certification in workers’ compensation law and professional affiliations.
  4. Schedule an initial consultation, and prepare to meet the attorney.
  5. Understand how a workers’ compensation attorney charges and what you can expect to pay.
  6. Be aware of the phases in a workers’ compensation case and how long the process takes.

Determine whether you need to hire an attorney for your workers’ compensation claim.

Hiring a workers’ compensation lawyer isn’t required to enforce a workers’ comp claim, but it’s often recommended. If your case is straightforward and the insurance company isn’t stonewalling your claim, you may be able to handle the process on your own. Otherwise, it’s worth consulting an attorney even if you only need general advice. If you were fired or laid off after reporting your injury, or if your employer is refusing to cooperate, a lawyer can expedite the process and help you recover essential compensation. You may also benefit from hiring an attorney if your employer is exempt from workers’ comp insurance requirements. In the following situations, an attorney could be critical to the outcome of your case.

  • The case is complicated by preexisting medical conditions, or there’s a dispute about the injury
  • You need to appeal a denial before your state’s workers’ compensation board
  • Unreasonable delays are preventing you from receiving medical care
  • Your injuries caused a permanent disability or affected your ability to work in the future
  • You want to protect your right to additional benefits, such as Social Security Disability
  • You need to challenge your disability rating or maximum medical improvement determination
ExperTip: Workers’ compensation law is regulated state by state. While almost every state requires almost every business type to have some kind of workers’ compensation insurance, there are differences in what each state considers an employee, what constitutes an employer, what types of injuries are covered under workers’ compensation statutes, and reporting and notice requirements for anyone claiming a work injury, among other issues. For more information on your state’s workers’ compensation statutes, check out ALFA International’s 2020 Workers Compensation Law Compendium, and ask prospective attorneys you speak with to explain any clauses or sections you don’t fully understand.

Start your search, and look for an attorney with deep experience and a substantial case history in workers’ compensation law.

Workers’ compensation is a highly specialized practice area, so it’s worth hiring the most experienced professional you can find. Start by gathering names and checking websites. Workers’ compensation should be the attorney’s primary focus, and the person should have substantial experience in this area. You may also want to check for information about past settlements and recoveries to see if the attorney has been successful in the past. Here are a few reasons why you need the most qualified professional on your side.

  • Skilled attorneys are familiar with tactics used by insurance companies and uncooperative employers
  • They’re comfortable with the ins and outs of the state’s workers’ compensation board and the administrative process
  • They’re aware of all deadlines and filing procedures in your jurisdiction, and they may know the arbitrators who oversee the hearings
  • They can provide personalized, well-informed advice as you navigate the process whether you’re filing an initial claim or appealing a denial
  • They can protect your interests and accurately evaluate claims when negotiating settlements
  • They’re more likely to have experience representing clients in similar cases or against the same employer

Check for board certification in workers’ compensation law and professional affiliations.

To give yourself the best possible chance for success, consider hiring a board-certified workers’ compensation attorney who has successfully demonstrated his or her professional expertise. Many but not all state bar associations offer a legal specialization for attorneys who focus on workers’ compensation.

To earn this qualification, attorneys must have several years of relevant legal experience, and workers’ compensation claims must represent a substantial portion of their legal practice. They must also complete a peer review or provide references from judges or attorneys in the area. Additionally, qualifying attorneys must complete continuing education requirements to remain certified.

You can check with your state bar association to see if this specialization is available in your area. Exceptional attorneys may also be recognized by the Workers’ Compensation Trial Lawyers Association, the Workers’ Compensation Lawyers Association, and state-level groups.

ExperTip: Think twice before switching workers’ comp lawyers. If you think your case is taking too long, or that your attorney is either ignoring your attempts to communicate or neglecting your case, you may be tempted to seek new counsel. But in most cases (except for true ineptitude or malfeasance, which you can help avoid up front by doing your due diligence in choosing an attorney), the problems lie within the nature of the workers’ comp investigation phase and how long it takes to complete. While you may think that changing attorneys will help speed up your case, this is generally not true. And, because most states set a cap on workers’ comp attorney fees, and because those fees must be split by both lawyers if you opt to fire one lawyer and hire another, you may have serious difficulty finding a new lawyer to replace your old one, and settle for half of their contingency fee.

Schedule an initial consultation, and prepare to meet the attorney.

Scheduling an initial consultation is an important first step for anyone who has experienced a workplace injury or accident. Most workers’ compensation attorneys offer free or low-cost consultations to help prospective clients evaluate their claims. To make the most of this time, it’s important to be fully prepared. Here are a few things to bring to your meeting.

  • Contact information for witnesses
  • Documents and emails
  • Medical records
  • Photographs or video footage
  • Pay stubs and employment records
  • Accident reports and claims notices

Meeting with an attorney gives you insight into the professional’s approach and experience. You may wish to consult more than one attorney to find the best fit. Ask the following questions to determine how the lawyer can help you.

  1. How many years of experience do you have?
  2. Have you handled similar workers’ compensation cases?
  3. Will you be handling my case personally?
  4. Who is available to answer my questions?
  5. What can be done if my employer doesn’t have workers’ comp?
  6. What type of benefits can I recover?
  7. How long will it take to resolve my workers’ compensation claim?
  8. What can I do if I can’t afford medical care?
  9. Is it better to accept a settlement or schedule a hearing?
  10. How much time do I have to take the next step?
  11. What can I do if my claim is denied?
  12. Can I continue receiving benefits after returning to work?
  13. If I’m injured, am I required to accept lower-paid work?

Understand how a workers’ compensation attorney charges and what you can expect to pay.

Workers’ compensation attorneys typically receive part of the benefits or settlement that they recover. This type of fee structure is known as a contingency billing agreement, which means that the attorney only gets paid if the case is successful.

Most states set a fixed rate for how much workers’ compensation attorneys can charge. Common fee caps range from 10% to 20% of the recovery based on the complexity of the case. Additionally, in some regions, attorneys are only entitled to a portion of wage loss compensation, and they may be unable to collect fees from medical benefits unless the employer or insurance company has disputed the claim.

According to the National Safety Council, the average workers’ compensation claim totals more than $40,000, which means that the attorney may receive approximately $6,000. Surveys also show that workers who hire legal representation typically receive 30% more than those who go it alone.

Be aware of the phases in a workers’ compensation case and how long the process takes.

The timeline for resolving a workers’ compensation claim varies significantly depending on the severity of the injury, the employer’s responsiveness, and the state’s case load. Although it’s a slow process, workers must meet strict deadlines for notifying their employer of the injury.

In most states, workers have anywhere from 10 to 90 days to submit an injury report with their employer and a year or more to file a claim with the state’s workers’ compensation board. Claims can remain open for up to five years or until the worker reaches maximum medical improvement.

Further, settlement negotiations and appeals can take several months to resolve, so it’s important to remain patient. If you reach a settlement, it can take one to two months to receive a check after the agreement is finalized.

Ready to speak to a lawyer? Here is our list of the best workers’ compensation attorneys near you.