Workplace injuries can be catastrophic for workers. While you are healing from your injuries, you may be disabled and unable to work. Thankfully, workers’ compensation benefits cover your wage loss, medical bills, and vocational rehabilitation costs.
If your workers’ comp claim is denied, you have the right to appeal. Many injured workers decide to hire a lawyer to help them with the appeals process. Thankfully, every state regulates how workers’ comp lawyers charge attorney fees.
Almost All Workers’ Compensation Lawyers Charge a Contingency Fee
Most state laws require workers’ comp lawyers to charge a contingency fee. This means that you will not pay your lawyer unless they recover for you. Typically, the lawyer will receive a percentage of your winnings or settlement.
The percentage and fee structure varies from state to state. For example:
- In California, the judge typically assigns a fee between 9 and 12 percent,
- In Michigan, there is a sliding scale from 10 to 30 percent, depending on timing and whether the case is won at trial or settled,
- In New Jersey, there is a maximum fee of 20 percent, and
- In Texas, an attorney cannot charge more than 25 percent.
Make sure you understand your state’s workers’ compensation fee structure before hiring a lawyer.
Would a Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Ever Charge an Hourly Fee?
Most states prohibit hourly attorney fees in workers’ comp cases. However, Florida’s Supreme Court recently found its workers’ compensation fee structure to be unconstitutional. Because Florida’s system limited attorney fees, lawyers were sometimes paid less than minimum wage for their work. The Florida Supreme Court found that these unreasonably low attorney fees limited injured workers’ access to skilled representation.
Currently, the Florida Legislature is crafting a new workers’ compensation fee structure. In the meantime, a lawyer may ask for an increased (potentially hourly) fee if the fee structure results in an unreasonably low fee.
It is important to discuss attorney fees with your lawyer before signing his or her fee agreement. If you are uncomfortable with the lawyer’s terms, do not sign his or her paperwork, and seek a second opinion.
A Judge Must Approve the Attorney Fee
In every state, a workers’ compensation judge must approve attorney fees. A lawyer cannot receive a payment without the judge’s approval. Typically, the fee must be fair and reasonable. The judge may consider the complexity of your case, your lawyer’s skill, and other factors when awarding attorney fees.
If you disagree with a fee award, some states allow you to appeal the judge’s decision.
You May Be Charged For Litigation Costs
In addition to attorney fees, you may be responsible for litigation costs. When a lawyer prepares a case for trial, he or she will spend money developing the case. These costs may include charges for:
- Medical records,
- Depositions (sworn testimony of doctors and experts),
- Court reporters (who transcribe sworn testimony),
- Independent medical examinations, and
- Vocational expert assessments.
While clients dislike paying for costs, it is almost impossible to win a disputed claim without evidence. Most doctors and experts charge for their time and records. Depending on the complexity of your case, these costs can add up to thousands of dollars.
Lawyers and law firms have different ways to charge for costs. Many lawyers will advance your costs and only charge you if there is a recovery in your case. However, others will demand payment whether you win or lose. Some may insist on a retainer (or upfront payment) for costs before agreeing to take a case.
Again, make sure you understand your lawyer’s approach to costs before signing a contract. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or to seek a second opinion.
Do I Really Need a Workers’ Compensation Lawyer?
Sometimes, an injured worker will decide to pursue a claim without legal representation. However, workers’ compensation laws are becoming increasingly complicated. In most states, successful workers’ comp claims involve detailed medical, legal, and vocational analyses. A lawyer can help you navigate the workers’ comp system and maximize your benefits.
Hiring a workers compensation lawyer may make financial sense. You typically do not have to pay attorney fees unless you win or settle your case—and many lawyers are willing to advance litigation costs. Lastly, initial consultations are often free—giving you an opportunity to find a lawyer who is a good fit.