I am out of work and money’s tight. How do I pay for an attorney?
If you’re injured and you can’t work, you probably don’t have a lot of excess cash lying around. You need to file a workers’ compensation claim, but an attorney is expensive. How can you afford a lawyer when you’re not working?
Insurance companies have fleets of experienced attorneys and the cash to pay them. When you’re up against those odds, you need an experienced attorney of your own to protect your rights. For many types of lawsuits, low-income workers can get free legal representation from attorneys (called “pro bono” representation) or legal aid organizations. Unfortunately, workers’ compensation attorneys don’t usually work pro bono and legal aid organizations don’t generally accept workers’ compensation cases.
If you can’t get free legal help, what can you do?
Contrary to what you might think, you probably can afford to hire a private attorney.
Workers’ Compensation attorneys charge a contingency fee. That means you’ll pay them a percentage of your award with no cost upfront. The fee for workers’ compensation cases in North Carolina is generally 25% of the monetary benefits or settlement you receive. If you recover nothing, you pay nothing. You can get the benefit of representation by an experienced, private attorney without paying a dime until they help you win compensation.
Why do attorneys charge contingency fees?
Attorneys know that when you’re out of work, you don’t have the cash to retain a lawyer to the tune of hundreds of dollars an hour. That doesn’t mean you don’t deserve help with your legal issues. A contingency fee is a way to make sure that people who need legal representation can get it even without the cash to pay upfront.
A contingency fee also gives your attorney an extra incentive to do the best possible job for you. The more money your attorney wins for you, the more she gets paid. Everyone wins.
In addition to the percentage fee, you may have to pay certain expenses if you win. These may include the costs of depositions, medical evaluations, and attorney travel expenses, among others. If you don’t receive a settlement or award, you won’t have to pay any expenses.
Will an attorney accept my case?
Not every workers’ compensation case merits hiring an attorney. If your case is for a small amount (a few thousand dollars or less), you may have to represent yourself. Any workers’ compensation case takes time, and an attorney won’t accept your case if their fee won’t be worth the time it takes. If you’re not going to win much, you might as well save the attorney fee anyway. It will be easier to win a claim for a small amount than for a large one, so you probably don’t actually need an attorney for small claims.
Attorneys are paid a percentage of the monetary benefits you receive. If your case is about the payment of old medical bills or coverage of future care rather than a cash award, your attorney wouldn’t be paid anything even if you were to win. It may be tough to find an attorney for that type of case, too.
When do I need an attorney?
A workers’ compensation claim is similar to other insurance claims. You’ve been hurt at work and you need compensation for your medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. When you’re first injured, your priority should be to get the medical help you need. Keep all of the documentation relating to your injury and treatment.
Once you’ve recovered as much as possible (attorneys call this the point of maximum medical improvement, or “MMI”), it’s time to file your claim for compensation. It’s also time to hire an attorney. You may think it’s only necessary to retain an attorney if you’re going to court. For injury claims, that’s not the case.
When you make a claim for compensation, the insurance company’s attorneys will start to pick it apart. They’ll look into whether you actually needed the treatment you got or whether you were being treated for preexisting injuries. They’ll investigate whether you could have gone back to work earlier. An attorney will help you make the best claim possible from the get-go. She’ll know what evidence to include and how to cut off the defenses the insurance companies are going to use.
If the insurance company offers you a settlement or denies your claim, your attorney will have experience negotiating for a higher settlement. If you do have to go to court, your attorney will be ready to fight for you.
The Bottom Line
If your case is for a small amount, you probably don’t need an attorney. If it’s primarily for old medical bills or future medical expenses, you may not be able to hire an attorney. If, however, you’re expecting pain and suffering or other claims, you should contact an experienced workers’ compensation attorney to discuss your case.
If you’re going to claim a relatively large sum of money, the insurance company will fight hard against you. You need a highly competent attorney to stand between you and the insurance companies to get you the award you deserve. Reach out to us to schedule a consultation to learn what you can recover.