If you have a workers’ compensation claim, you might be concerned that you cannot afford to hire a lawyer. Fortunately, Georgia limits the amount that lawyers can charge for workers’ comp cases. Because of this fee cap, most injured workers can afford to hire an experienced workers’ comp lawyer.
How Does a Workers’ Comp Lawyer Charge?
In Georgia, all workers’ compensation lawyers are paid on a contingency fee basis. This means that the lawyer is not paid unless you settle your case or receive an order from a workers’ comp judge granting benefits. Instead of charging you an hourly rate for his or her services, the lawyer gets a portion of your settlement or your award. Additionally, most workers’ compensation lawyers will meet with you for an initial consultation for free.
What Is the Most a Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Can Charge?
The maximum contingency fee for a workers' comp case in Georgia is 25%. In some cases, a lawyer will agree to a fee that is lower than the maximum rate. However, this is rare because workers’ compensation claims often involve a lot of work and because the maximum fee is already relatively low (especially when compared to personal injury cases, where the lawyer charges 33% to 40%). However, if your dispute is minor and your claim can be quickly resolved, your lawyer may agree to a reduced fee. (For more information, see Can I Negotiate the Attorneys' Fees in My Workers' Compensation Case?)
How Are Legal Costs Handled?
Legal costs are different than attorneys’ fees; they are the costs of pursuing your case. These costs include expert witness fees (for example, for doctors who testify at a deposition or hearing), court reporter fees for transcribing depositions, and appeal filing fees.
While your lawyer can try to limit legal costs, they are usually unavoidable. Preparing a workers’ compensation case for a hearing typically requires developing medical evidence and expert testimony. Without this evidence, it could be impossible to win your claim.
Most workers’ comp lawyers will not ask you to cover costs up front. Instead, they will pay for legal costs and deduct them from your settlement or award. Additionally, most lawyers will forgive the costs if you do not receive a settlement or award. However, this is not always the case, so be sure to ask your lawyer about how costs are handled before you hire him or her. (For more information, see Who Pays for the Costs of Pursuing a Workers’ Compensation Case?)
How Much Will I Get After Attorneys’ Fees and Costs?
You should discuss fees and costs with your lawyer at your initial consultation, before signing a fee agreement. If you are considering a settlement, your lawyer should also explain how much will be deducted in attorneys’ fees and costs. Below is an example of how a typical settlement might be distributed.
Example: A lawyer negotiates a $75,000 settlement. The lawyer spent $1,500 on depositions, expert witness fees, and other costs. A workers’ comp judge might approve the following distribution:
- $1,500 in costs to the lawyer
- $18,375 in attorneys’ fees (the maximum fee of 25%, after costs are taken out), and
- $55,125 to the worker.
Additional sums might be withheld from your portion of the settlement for unpaid medical bills, unpaid child support, and Medicare set-aside agreements. (For more information, see our article on what might be taken out of workers’ comp settlements.)
Can I Get the Insurance Company to Pay For Fees and Costs?
If you can prove that the insurance company unreasonably denied your claim, the judge may order the insurance company to pay your lawyer’s fees and legal costs. However, you must have evidence showing that the insurance company’s denial of benefits was frivolous or in bad faith, which can be hard to come by.
How Are Attorneys’ Fees Approved?
The State Board of Workers’ Compensation must approve your lawyer’s fees if the fee is more than $100. The board must also approve all legal costs to be deducted from your settlement or award.
In order to have a fee approved, your lawyer must promptly file your signed fee agreement with the Board. Once the case is resolved, your lawyer must also file an Attorney Fee Approval form (Form 108a) to request approval of his or her fee and costs.