Workers Compensation

Will I Have to Pay My Lawyer's Fees if I Lose My Workers' Comp Case?

By Sachi Barreiro, Attorney, University of San Francisco School of Law


My workers’ compensation claim was just denied by my employer’s insurance company. I want to hire a lawyer, but I’m worried about the cost. I’ve heard that workers’ comp lawyers take a percentage of a worker’s award as payment. But what happens if I lose my case and don’t get an award? Will I still have to pay my lawyer?


Workers’ compensation lawyers typically work on a contingency fee basis. This means that, instead of being paid by the hour for their services, they take a percentage of any settlement or award recovered on the worker’s behalf. The maximum percentage a lawyer can charge varies from state to state, but it’s generally in the range of 10% to 30%. In California, for example, the maximum fee is usually between 10% to 15%.

This type of arrangement makes legal services accessible to injured workers, many of whom do not have the funds to pay a lawyer hundreds of dollars an hour. With a contingency fee, the worker gets the benefit of hiring a lawyer, without the financial pressures of paying for legal fees out of pocket. And, if the lawyer isn’t able to recover anything for the worker, the lawyer doesn’t collect any fees.

However, the costs of pursuing your case may be handled differently. Your lawyer will incur various costs during your case, such as fees for requesting your medical records (typically between $0.25 to $1 per page), deposition transcript fees (depending on the length and location, fees range between $150 and $400 or more), and fees for doctor testimony at a hearing (this could be $1,000 to $2,000 even in simple cases).

Workers’ compensation lawyers will often advance these costs and then take them out of your recovery if you win. However, some lawyers may require you to pay for some or all of these costs even if you lose your case. (For more details, see Who Pays for the Costs of Pursuing a Workers’ Compensation Case?)

Before you hire a lawyer, you should ask the lawyer how attorneys’ fees and cost will be handled. If the lawyer isn’t willing to advance the costs in your case, you may want to consult with some other attorneys in your area. You may be able to get a better arrangement.

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