Who Pays for a Workers’ Compensation Attorney?

Legal fees can intimidate people from filing a law suit in all types of situations. No one wants to pay thousands of dollars for a case, especially if there is no guarantee of success. Many attorneys require a retainer be paid upfront before accepting a legal matter, while others bill on an hourly basis. Others accept cases on a contingent fee basis. Where do workers’ compensation attorneys fit into this mix? When it comes to workers’ compensation matters, who pays for the attorney?

We have asked attorney Alaina Sullivan, about what you should do. Here is what she had to say:

Contingency Fees and a Workers' Compensation Claim

Workers’ compensation attorney fees are normally paid on a contingent fee basis. Contingent fees are only paid to attorneys if the client is paid. In workers’ compensation cases, the contingent fees are based on a percentage of the total award given to the client. Each state has its own set of rules as to what these percentages can be and how high, but they tend to range between 10 to 35 percent of the total award.

State-by-State Basis

Who pays for the workers’ compensation attorney varies from state to state. A lot hinges on how complex the case is, as well as the amount of the benefits in question. How much an attorney is paid and who pays for the attorney also depends on how far the case goes. In some states, like California, the judge will authorize a fee ranging from 10 percent to 15 percent, depending on how complex the case is. In New York, the judge will determine the fee, ranging from 10 to 20 percent. In Minnesota, the workers’ compensation attorney can charge a fee up to 25 percent based on the first $4,000 won, followed by 20 percent on the next $60,000 earned, with the earnings capped at $13,000 per injury.

Should I work with an attorney?

You should be sure to review your state's workers' compensation laws before starting your claim.

Prohibition on Earnings

Other states put a limit on what attorneys can charge and how they can obtain payment. In fact, many states will not allow attorneys to charge fees from benefits that are otherwise considered routine, such as medical bills or lost wages. Further, if a benefit is not disputed by the employer or insurance company, many states will not let attorneys collect benefits from this resource.

Approval by the Court

No matter where the case is filed, the workers’ compensation attorney will not receive payment until it is approved by the workers’ compensation judge or board. This approval requirement gives an extra level of protection for the employee, as well as the employer.

Out-of-Pocket Costs

All legal cases come with some type of out-of-pocket costs. These are expenses that come up in the ordinary course of a case, and they normally need to be paid immediately, not upon the successful closure of the case. An attorney-client fee agreement will detail what these costs are, but they normally include:

  • filing fees;
  • copying costs;
  • postage costs;
  • expert witness fees; and
  • attorney travel expenses.

Some attorneys will pay for these costs on their own and reimburse themselves from the contingent fee award. Other attorneys will require the client front these expenses as they are incurred. Speak with your attorney to see what works best for your case.

What If You Lose the Case?

If the employee loses the case, the workers’ compensation attorney will normally not require him or her to reimburse for costs expended. However, some attorneys may require the client at least provide a retainer up front for these costs in anticipation of litigation. Others may also require the client to reimburse the client if the matter is not successfully won in court or settlement.

Poor Conduct by Employer or Insurer

In situations where the employer or insurance company acts unethically or causes unnecessary delays in the case, the employee’s attorney can ask that the court issue a penalty against the other side to help pay for attorney’s fees. These awards tend to be rare, but they are allowed in situations where the other side is deliberately dragging things out or causing unneeded trouble settling the case or moving things along.

Contact an Attorney Today

If you have been involved in an accident during the normal course of business and are unsure about how to proceed with a workers’ compensation claim, it is highly recommended that you contact an attorney to answer your questions. A licensed attorney trained in workers’ compensation law will be able to review your case and determine your best course of action. To receive the compensation you deserve, contact an attorney in your area today.