Whether you work from the comfort of an office, or outside as a law enforcement officer, or behind the counter as a cashier, all workers face the potential of on-the-job injuries. Between wage payments, benefits, and other costs under deductible provisions, United States businesses fork over an average of $62 billion annually due to workers’ compensation claims.
Injuries from repetitive motion, slips or falls, vehicle accidents, and more are all common workplace injuries that happen regularly. In fact, 900,380 workers, on an annual average, will fall victim to an injury eligible for workers’ compensation.
Unfortunately, not all businesses and their owners like to cooperate with your workers’ compensation claim. What do you do when you have to go up against the corporate man?
Workers’ Compensation – When Do I Need an Attorney?
Workers’ compensation is a form of social insurance that each employer is required to carry for its employees. Ideally, this insurance should be alleviating for employees due to not having to worry about financial strain after a workplace-related injury. However, more often than not, employers choose not to cooperate with the claim.
In certain circumstances, the injured worker does not necessarily need to hire a workers’ compensation attorney for their injury claim. Examples of when you may be able to handle a workers’ compensation case on your own include, but are not limited to:
- The workplace injury is minor, such as a twisted ankle, minor cut that needs minimal care
- The employer freely admits that the injury occurred at the worksite
- The injury resulted in minimal or no workdays missed
- A pre-existing injury or ailment does not exist that may have also affected the area injured during the workplace accident
As seen, there are very few instances where it may be acceptable to handle a workers’ compensation case on your own. However, it still is a good precautionary measure to consult with an attorney regarding your workers’ compensation case. Now, let’s look at a few instances that warrant the assistance of a workers’ compensation attorney:
- The employer is denying the claim or refusing to pay benefits
- You are offered a settlement that does not cover all lost wages or medical expenses
- The injury prevents you from returning to work, limits your work scope, or leaves you permanently unemployable
- You intend to apply for Social Security benefits as a result of the workplace injury
- Your boss or employer retaliates against you for filing a workers’ compensation claim
- The injury was a result of third party actions or the employer’s gross negligence/misconduct
As seen from the prior examples, there are more cases that warrant a workers’ compensation attorney than cases that may be handled by the employee.
Benefits of Utilizing a Workers’ Compensation Attorney
When unable to work because of a workplace injury, workers must report the accident to their employer in writing as soon as possible. By doing so, they are increasing the chances for a successful worker’s comp case and securing that their medical expenses and financial well-being are covered. Let’s examine a few of the benefits you will receive from having a workers’ compensation attorney.
First and foremost, an attorney will know the proper paperwork to file on your behalf and ensure that you do not miss any deadlines. Required during virtually all cases, a skilled attorney will be well versed in obtaining evidence to support your workers’ compensation claim. This evidence can also aid in the negotiation of a settlement with the opposing party.
One obvious benefit, if all prior steps have failed and a settlement cannot be reached, the attorney will be able to represent you during the court hearing and/or trial.
Unfortunately, even though the workers’ compensation program was created to protect the employee, current-day cases often point towards favoring the employer and insurance company. By hiring a workers’ compensation attorney, the injured employee can drastically skew the table in their favor.
Paying for a Workers’ Compensation Attorney – costs in different states
Workers’ compensation attorneys are required to operate under a contingency fee, somewhat similar to personal injury attorney fees. What this means is that the attorney will receive a set percentage from the ending settlement amount or award. Rest assured, there are safety measures and laws put into place to protect the injured from being extorted with fees.
Although the fees for a workers’ compensation attorney vary from state to state, in most circumstances, the judge has to approve the percentage the attorney requests for payment.
A typical percentage earned by workers’ compensation lawyers is between 10%-20% of the settlement or award. Examining the differences across the states, we will notice that each has created its own payment structure.
For instance, in Illinois, the attorney is entitled to 20% of the amount equal to 364 days of the employee working. Whereas, in New Jersey, a workers’ compensation attorney is entitled to 20% of the total payout.
New Jersey’s neighbor, New York, varies greatly from its neighboring state. In New York, the attorney fees are decided solely by the judge and are based on the following:
- The injured worker’s financial status
- Case complexity
- The severity of the injuries
- The accumulated time and skill needed by the hired attorney
If you are a Florida resident, you can expect the following attorney payment structure:
- 20% of the first $5K in settlement or award
- 15% of the next $5K
- 10% of the remainder paid within the first ten years of the claims filing
- 5% of what remains after ten years
In California, workers’ compensation attorneys earn a percentage that is solely determined by the judge. The average percentage allowed is between 9%-12%. Extremely simple cases will see rates closer to 9% and sometimes lower. Whereas, extremely complex cases will see rates near the 12% mark or higher.
Regardless, you can see that the fee structure varies among the different states.
Outside of attorney fees, the injured worker will also be responsible for additional costs related to their workers’ compensation claims. The additional costs may include:
- Court filing fees
- Payment for copies of medical records
- Payment for independent medical exams
- Deposition costs
- Administrative fees (such as copying paperwork and postage costs)
Even though the injured is liable for the amount of the additional costs mentioned above, many attorneys will agree to front the expense for legal costs. If the funds for additional costs are funded by the attorney, the total amount owed will be paid back out of the settlement or award.
All in all, workers’ compensation claims can be intimidating. Hopefully, now you have an idea of what you can expect and whether or not you should seek professional help. If unsure about your claim, it is always recommended to consult with an attorney. Most workers’ compensation attorneys offer injured workers free consultations!