SO YOU’RE ASKING YOURSELF, DO I NEED AN ATTORNEY?
Hiring a lawyer can cause some stress because for most of us it’s a very unfamiliar process. People want to make sure the lawyer understands the issues and will work hard to represent their interests. You must weigh the benefits versus the cost of hiring a lawyer. There are obviously numerous benefits. There’s peace of mind in having someone who knows exactly what to do for you and how to guide you in the right direction to get the maximum benefits available. The cost of an attorney varies with each case. Most attorneys who represent injured workers are paid with what is called a “contingency fee,” which means the lawyer’s fee depends on his success in resolving the case. The fee comes out of whatever you are awarded for your claims. Usually, the lawyer takes 20 percent of the gross settlement. This arrangement works well for most parties because the lawyer takes a risk that he’ll never get paid if the claim goes nowhere, and the client gets to pursue his claim without having to come up with thousands of dollars up front in legal fees and costs. Without this arrangement, some people would never be able to fight a claim because they would not be able to afford it. If a case is not settled, you may be charged a contingency fee of 15 percent if an attorney helps you get your permanent partial disability benefits. You may be charged a fee of a few hundred dollars for each contested hearing your attorney attends. That fee, though, is usually paid through the recovery of future awards that you receive through your workers’ compensation claim. For example, if an attorney is awarded a $300 attorney fee, it would be paid from your awarded weekly check at $25 per week. We all want to keep our expenses down but sometimes you have to pay for expertise and the same holds true for a workers’ compensation attorney. When you’re talking about trying to replace a portion of your income you’ve lost from being hurt on the job and your health, you really can’t afford to handle the case yourself and risk making a crucial mistake. Thus, in the majority of cases you would need an attorney. However, there are some situations where you may not need an attorney. For example, if you have not missed any time from work and you’ve only had one doctor’s appointment which cost $100; even if it’s contested, it would be unwise to pay an attorney $300 to recover a $100 doctor’s visit bill. If it is contested and you have health insurance, submit it under your regular insurance and you only have to pay a co-pay. On the opposite end of the spectrum, for someone who will never be able to return to work and will need extensive medical treatment, the risk is too high not to have an experienced attorney working for you. A 1999 study found that insurance companies pay higher settlements to injured people who use an attorney than those who do not. It’s true. The insurance industry performed a study and found that people who had accident claims received more money in settlement by using an attorney than those who settled on their own. The study was performed by the Insurance Research Council, a non-profit organization that’s supported by leading property and casualty insurance companies across the United States. The Insurance Research Council found that people who use an attorney received on average 3 ½ times more money in settlement than those individuals who settled on their own. Since most workers’ compensation attorneys offer free consultations, you can discuss the need for an attorney at the meeting.