Workers Compensation

What Does It Cost to Hire a Workers' Compensation Lawyer?

By Sachi Barreiro, Attorney, University of San Francisco School of Law
Most workers’ compensation lawyers will charge you a fee only if you win your case.

If your workers’ compensation claim has been denied, or you’re struggling to get the medical treatment or benefits that you’re owed, you might be thinking of hiring an attorney. But, like many injured workers, you may not be in the best financial position of your life. After all, you have just been injured, you’ve probably missed time from work, and whatever benefits you’ve been able to collect don’t make up your normal wages. So, can you even afford to hire a workers' comp lawyer?

The good news is that, in most cases, the answer is yes. Injured workers are often surprised to learn that hiring a workers’ compensation attorney is within reach. This is because most workers’ comp lawyers charge on a contingency fee basis.

Contingency Fees in Workers' Compensation Cases

Instead of charging you on an hourly basis, a lawyer who charges a contingency fee will take a percentage of any award or settlement recovered on your behalf. This means that you won’t have to pay attorney’s fees up front. And, more importantly, you pay attorney’s fees only if you win your case. So even if you lose and wind up with nothing, you can have peace of mind that you won’t be slapped with a large bill for attorney’s fees.

Contingency fees are commonly used with people who have been injured, such as in personal injury or workers’ compensation cases. A traditional contingency fee is typically around one-third of the plaintiff’s recovery. However, contingency fees in workers’ compensation cases are often lower due to state-imposed caps on fees.

Caps on Workers' Comp Attorney’s Fees

Most states have stepped in to protect injured workers by placing a cap on contingency fees and allowing injured workers to keep more of their awards. The maximums vary greatly from state to state, but generally range from 10% to 25%.

In Texas, for example, attorney’s fees cannot be more than 25% of the worker’s award or settlement. In Illinois, the contingency fee cannot exceed 20% of the worker’s recovery. In California, fees typically range from 10% to 15%, depending on the complexity of the case. The more work the lawyer does, and the further along the case is, the higher the fee.

These are the maximum amounts that your lawyer can collect under state law. However, attorney’s fees must also be approved by a workers’ comp judge or the state workers’ compensation board. If the judge or board finds that your case was very simple or resolved quickly, it may award your attorney a fee that is less than the maximum.

Negotiating a Workers' Comp Fee Agreement

While many attorneys have a standard fee agreement that they offer to injured workers, you may be able to negotiate a lower contingency fee. Your success will depend, in part, on how strong your case is or what the scope of the representation is. For example, if you have a strong case and you stand to recover a large sum in benefits, a lawyer might be more willing to negotiate the fee. Or, if your case is very simple or limited in scope, the attorney might be willing to agree to a lower fee.

The lawyer should, however, only be taking a portion of any benefits that he or she helps you recover. For example, your lawyer typically shouldn’t take a fee from any benefits that aren’t in dispute or that were awarded before the lawyer came along.

Workers' Comp Costs & Expenses

Your workers’ compensation lawyer will incur various expenses in pursuing your case, such as filing costs, copying costs, deposition fees, and fees to request your medical records, employment records, and the like. Many lawyers will agree to front these costs for you and then take them out of your settlement or award if you win. Some lawyers, however, will require you to pay for these costs up front as the case progresses. And, some lawyers may charge you for costs even if you lose your case.

Before entering into a fee agreement with a lawyer, be sure to ask about how costs will be handled. You’ll want to know what you are expected to pay, win or lose. You should also ask whether costs are deducted from your award before or after the contingency fee is calculated. It’s usually to your benefit to have the costs deducted beforehand, as it means that the attorney’s percentage will be lower (because it’s based on a smaller pool of money).

Consult With a Workers' Comp Lawyer

If you’re thinking of hiring a workers’ compensation lawyer, you’ll be glad to know that many offer initial consultations, free of charge. A workers’ comp lawyer should be willing to meet with you for around 30 minutes, in person or over the phone, to evaluate your case. In some states, such as California, the initial consultation must be free. To find workers’ compensation lawyers in your area, check out the directory.

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