In the unfortunate circumstance where you or a loved one find yourself injured on the job, the immediate post-injury process can be quite overwhelming. Just a few of the issues that you will confront include –
- Reporting the injury to your supervisor
- Seeking and securing the appropriate medical treatment for your injury or injuries
- Signing paperwork that your employer provides you, including a Notice of Rights and Duties, accident or injury report, and other related insurance paperwork
- Whether or not your medical treatment and wage loss will be covered and paid for by your employer or their workers’ compensation insurance carrier
Once some of those initial steps have been considered or completed, an additional question that may be on your mind is – do I really need a worker’s compensation attorney in order to protect my rights? Is it worthwhile to pay even a portion of my benefits to an attorney to represent me?
Let’s face it, what scares many people when considering whether or not to hire an attorney is the expense associated with the process. We have all seen and heard stories of attorneys charging high hourly rates or sending expensive bills to their clients, leaving many people feeling that they are not certain if hiring an attorney is a good investment.
In the Pennsylvania workers’ compensation system, however, injured workers have several protections when it comes to attorney’s fees. First, attorney’s fees in general are contingent which means that attorneys are not paid by the hour but rather are paid based on their success in a case, whether benefits are secured by settlement, court order, or other agreement. Therefore, you and your attorney are in it together – the greater the award that he or she is able to secure for you, the more money he or she will make as well. This can remove the tension between attorney and client when the attorney recommends a certain action, because both parties are clearly aligned in their financial or monetary goals.
Second, the law has put a cap on what the contingent percentage can be. In Pennsylvania workers’ compensation cases, the contingent fee can be no more than 20% of the weekly benefits that are paid or benefits paid pursuant to an order or settlement. You should be sure to ask your attorney whether the 20% fee applies to both wage loss and medical benefits or just wage loss benefits. Reason being, there has been a recent change in the law that theoretically allows attorneys to also take a fee on medical bills or benefits paid. If that is going to be the case, you and your attorney need to have a clear understanding of how this type of arrangement will work and you will need to be comfortable with that arrangement.
Finally, an attorney is not able to charge a fee to your case until and unless a worker’s compensation judge issues a written order that approves the fee agreement. As such, any fee agreement that you sign with your attorney is subject to judicial review, which is another unique element of Pennsylvania workers compensation law which protects individual workers.
An injured worker should also recognize that reputable workers compensation attorneys and law firms will cover the litigation expenses upfront on your behalf. This means that the expenses associated with gathering your medical records, securing a medical expert to testify for you, and obtaining the written transcripts from court events or depositions will be your attorney’s responsibility. This works out in this manner because the law provides that when an injured worker is successful in whole or in part in a litigated case, those costs are reimbursed. As such, reputable law firms are willing to front those costs and accept the risk of not getting the costs back in the end.
An additional factor that should push you in the direction of hiring an attorney is the complexity of Pennsylvania workers compensation law, many of which complexities were not present a generation or two ago. over the course of the more than 100 year history of the Pennsylvania workers compensation act, many new regulations, laws, and cases interpreting those regulations and laws have been enacted and decided. For a lay person or even an experienced attorney who does not regularly practice in workers’ compensation law, these complexities make taking on a workers’ compensation case without qualified counsel extremely difficult if not next to impossible.
For all of these reasons as well as many more, when you or a loved one are faced with a work-related injury, it is well worth your time and limited expense to hire a qualified and experienced workers compensation lawyer. Doing so, and selecting an attorney who is a good fit for you, will put your case in a much better and stronger position for success.