You may be wondering if it’s worth hiring a lawyer for your workers’ compensation case. After all, you’ll have to give up a percentage of your workers’ compensation benefits, and you may need all the money that you can get. In many cases, though, workers’ compensation lawyers pay for themselves. This is because they can often get you a significantly higher settlement or award than you could have achieved on your own.
When Can a Lawyer Get Me More in Benefits?
If your claim is minor or undisputed, hiring a lawyer may not be worth it. In these situations, you will probably receive all of the routine benefits that you are entitled to without much difficulty. You can likely handle your case if the following is true:
- you suffered a relatively minor injury at work
- the insurance company accepted your claim
- your temporary disability payments were promptly made
- you were able to return to work, and
- you don’t have any permanent injuries or physical limitations.
On the other hand, if your claim is disputed or your injuries are moderate to severe, a lawyer can be essential to getting all of the benefits to which you are entitled. This is particularly true in cases involving a psychiatric injury, a preexisting medical condition, or an occupational disease or repetitive stress injury that could be attributed to your non-work activities. (Read more about these types of cases in Common Reasons Worker's Compensation Claims Are Denied.)
How Can a Lawyer Get Me More in Benefits?
A good workers’ compensation lawyer has handled numerous workers’ compensation cases, knows the ins and outs of the workers’ compensation system, and is an expert in the field. The lawyer will know all of the procedural requirements, including filing deadlines, which makes it much less likely that your claim will be denied on a technicality.
The lawyer will also know what benefits you are eligible for, how much you should receive, and how to get the insurance company to pay those amounts. This is especially helpful because insurance companies often don’t tell workers about the lesser-known benefits that are available, such as mileage reimbursement for travel to medical appointments or vocational rehabilitation benefits to train in a new job. Insurance companies are also known to miscalculate temporary disability benefits, for example, by basing payments on a low estimate of the workers’ average earnings that doesn’t include tips, overtime, commissions, or other regular wages. (For more information, see Workers' Comp Benefits FAQ.)
Worker’s comp lawyers also have inside knowledge about different insurance companies, their reputations, and their negotiation tactics. Because insurance companies often hire the same doctors to perform independent medical examinations (IMEs), your lawyer may also be familiar with the doctor who performs your exam and can warn you of any traps to avoid. And, if you need to challenge your IME report, your lawyer can refer you to a trusted doctor to give a second opinion.
Finally, when it comes down to it, the lawyer for the insurance company will be much more willing to negotiate with another lawyer, who may be viewed as more of an equal. Your lawyer will know what a good settlement offer is and whether you should take it based on your likelihood of success at a hearing.
Is Hiring a Lawyer Worth the Cost?
The worker’s compensation system is designed to make it feasible for injured workers to hire lawyers to represent them. In fact, when compared to many other areas of law, workers’ comp lawyers are often quite affordable. This is because of two factors: contingency fees and state caps on attorneys’ fees.
A contingency fee is an arrangement where the lawyer takes a percentage of any settlement or award recovered on your behalf. This means that you don’t have to pay for the lawyer’s services up front. And, if you don’t win, you don’t pay his or fees at all.
Unlike personal injury lawsuits, where it’s routine for lawyers to charge 33% to 40%, workers’ compensation cases have caps on attorneys’ fees. The maximum fee varies from state to state, but is most often in the range of 10% to 20%. However, in a few states, the fees can run higher. For example, in Delaware, a lawyer can charge up to 30% of your settlement or award.Many workers’ comp lawyers provide free initial consultations. To find workers' compensation lawyers near you, see our lawyer directory.