You work hard 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 if an employee is injured.
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.
If you're dealing with disputes, facing unfair tactics or aren't sure where to start, consulting an attorney can protect your right to compensation. Follow these steps to hire the right workers' compensation lawyer for your claim.
Decide if hiring a lawyer is right for your case.
Hiring a workers' compensation lawyer isn't required. Although many claims are resolved without the need for attorney intervention, legal representation provides a number of advantages. Workers who have attorneys typically recover 30% more. Legal professionals are especially helpful in complex cases and appeals. Before you sign anything, consult an attorney to make sure that you aren't waiving your right to compensation or undervaluing your claim. Here are a few situations where an attorney's assistance can be vital.
- There's a dispute about the injury;
- You have a preexisting medical condition;
- You were fired or laid off after reporting 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;
- You want to protect your right to other benefits, such as Social Security Disability;
- You need to challenge your disability rating or maximum medical improvement determination;
- Your employer is exempt from workers' comp insurance requirements.
Workers' compensation laws vary by state. While almost every state requires businesses to carry workers' compensation insurance, there are differences in who is considered an employee, what injuries are covered, and how long workers have to file a claim. For more information on your state's workers' compensation statutes, check out ALFA International's 2020 Workers Compensation Law Compendium
, and ask prospective attorneys to explain any clauses or sections that you don't understand.
Find a qualified workers' compensation attorney.
Workers' compensation is a specialized 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 as demonstrated by previous settlements and recoveries. Here are a few reasons why you need the most qualified professional.
- Skilled attorneys know how to deal with 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 familiar with 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 throughout the process from filing an initial claim to appealing a denial.
- They use proven techniques to negotiate favorable settlements and protect your interests.
- They may have experience representing clients in similar cases or against the same employer.
As about professional accreditations.
To give yourself the best chance for success, consider hiring a board-certified workers' compensation attorney. Bar members who are applying must have several years of relevant legal experience, and workers' compensation claims must represent a substantial portion of their legal practice. They must complete a peer review or provide references from local judges or attorneys. There are also continuing education requirements.
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.Expert Tip:
Think twice before switching workers' comp lawyers. Delays are typically the result of a time-consuming administrative process or uncooperative insurance companies rather than professional ineptitude. Due to state-imposed fee caps, it may be difficult to find a lawyer who is willing to split their earnings with another professional. Communicate with your attorney regularly for the latest updates.
Prepare for the initial consultation.
Scheduling an initial consultation with a worker's compensation attorney is a wise choice 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, bring the following items to your first 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 helps to establish the strengths and weaknesses of your claim and gives you insight into the professional's approach and level of experience. Ask the following questions to find the right lawyer for your case.
Experience and Practice Area
Workers' compensation is a unique practice area that requires attorneys to interact with a complex administrative system. Ideally, you want to find an attorney who handles these cases regularly and whose experience is relevant to your situation. Worker's compensation should be their primary focus, and they should have a proven track record. Ask questions to learn more about their practice.
- How many years of experience do you have?
- Have you handled similar workers' compensation cases?
- Is workers' compensation your primary practice area?
- Will you be handling my case personally?
- Who is available to answer my questions?
Specifics of Your Claim
After assessing the facts of your claim, an attorney can give you a better idea of what to expect as the case moves forward. Lawyers can evaluate your case, explain the advantages of accepting a settlement and interpret any state laws that may affect your right to compensation. The following questions can give you more insight into the claims process.
- What type of benefits can I recover?
- How long will it take to resolve my workers' compensation claim?
- Is it better to accept a settlement or schedule a hearing?
- How much time do I have to take the next step?
Planning for Potential Challenges
Some workers' compensation attorneys will do whatever it takes to help clients and their families fight for compensation. If you're concerned about how you'll be able support your family and pay for medical care while you're unable to work, an attorney can provide practical advice. Here are a few questions that you might want to ask to determine if the attorney will go to bat for you.
- What can be done if my employer doesn't have workers' comp?
- What can I do if I can't afford medical care?
- Can I file an appeal if my claim is denied?
- Can I continue receiving benefits after returning to work?
- If I'm injured, am I required to accept lower-paying work?
Understand the Billing Agreement
According to the National Safety Council, the average workers' compensation claim totals more than $40,000. While workers who have legal representation typically receive more than those who go it alone, attorneys are entitled to a contingency fee valued at 10-20% of the recovery in most states. Fees are usually based on the client's wages rather than the amount awarded for medical bills.
Stick With the Schedule
The timeline for resolving a workers' compensation claim varies depending on the severity of the injury, the employer's responsiveness, and the state's case load. Workers typically have a limited number of days to notify their employer of the injury and roughly a year to file a claim. It may take several months to negotiate a settlement. Even if the case the successful, it could be several more weeks before the check arrives.
Ready to speak to a lawyer? Here is our list of the best workers' compensation attorneys near you.