While some workers’ compensation claims do not require the assistance of an attorney, other claims may benefit from professional representation. If your injury is relatively minor and clearly related to your job, you may not need to hire a lawyer. On the other hand, if you are suffering from a permanent disability, or the source of the injury is unclear, you should strongly consider working with an attorney to protect your right to benefits. Other situations in which you may need legal representation include when your employer retaliated against you for filing a claim, or when a third party caused your injuries. An attorney can be especially useful if your initial claim has been denied, which often happens to deserving claimants. They can analyze ways to improve your position, gather more evidence, and present it persuasively to a judge.
Your attorney should be experienced in your type of claim and communicate well with you. You should feel comfortable discussing your case with them. Getting referrals from friends or coworkers can be a good strategy, but sometimes you may need to look for a lawyer online. Since most workers’ compensation lawyers offer free consultations, you can use the consultation to get a sense of the lawyer’s personality and approach. You may be worried about whether you can pay for representation. However, most workers’ compensation lawyers recover their fee as a percentage of the worker’s benefits award. You can read more here about paying for a workers’ compensation lawyer.
Without adequate documentation of your injury or illness, you probably will not receive all of the benefits that you need. Your attorney can help you compile your medical records and navigate the process of an independent medical examination, if your insurer requests it. They also can conduct depositions of doctors and advise you on how to prepare for your own deposition. In addition to medical evidence, the attorney might collect testimony from family members, friends, and coworkers about the restrictions imposed by your disability. They might retain a vocational expert to discuss the nature of your job and any adjustments required to accommodate your disability.
An attorney also might investigate any evidence suggesting that your employer allowed dangerous conditions to develop in the workplace. If it appears that safety failures played a role, you may be entitled to additional benefits, or the employer or its insurer may be more motivated to pay benefits or offer a fair settlement.
Many workers’ compensation claims result in settlements between the injured worker and the employer or insurer. Settlement negotiations can be an uneven playing field if you do not hire an attorney to represent you. The issues that arise can be complex, such as the scope of any permanent disabilities and the costs of future medical treatment. Your attorney can advise you on the strength of your position and the fairness of a settlement offer. Unfortunately, insurers often make low-ball offers and use other tactics to take advantage of unsophisticated, unrepresented claimants.
Any settlement agreement will need to be carefully drafted to protect your rights. The judge will need to make sure that a settlement is reasonably fair before they approve it, but they will not advocate for you as an attorney would. Some workers will be receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) in addition to workers’ compensation. Your attorney will want to craft the language of the agreement to prevent an excessive offset in benefits. Also, if a settlement covers future medical costs, they can estimate the amount so that it can be integrated into the final settlement.
Representation at Hearings
Some claims cannot be resolved through a settlement. If you need to pursue benefits at a hearing before a judge, your attorney can assist you with the legal nuances of this process. They can research the law, gather evidence, take depositions, and file motions to the court to advance your interests. The attorney should be vigilant about deadlines and monitor the status of your case to make sure that the judge receives all of the necessary documents. They will present arguments on your behalf at the hearing and challenge any improper evidence or arguments by the insurer. If you do not get the benefits that you wanted at this stage, the attorney can help you appeal.
Sometimes workers may be eligible for SSDI and other types of benefits after a workplace accident. They also may be able to bring a third-party personal injury claim against someone other than their employer or a coworker, if that third party caused or contributed to their accident. (Read more here about third-party claims.) If you retain an attorney who is experienced in these various areas, they can discuss the full scope of your legal options with you and pursue all of the avenues that may be appropriate.