Whether you need an attorney to represent you after you are injured and have a workers' compensation claim depends on a number of factors. In general, if your claim relates to a temporary, minor injury and is low value, you might be able to handle your own workers' comp claim. In most other situations, you'll want to hire an experienced workers' comp attorney to get the benefits you deserve.
If any of the following are true, you should hire a workers' compensation lawyer as soon as possible:
Regardless of the circumstances of your workers' compensation claim, you are entitled to obtain an attorney. If your injuries are severe enough that your life will be permanently altered, either because of permanent bodily impairment or a change in the ability to work, a workers' comp lawyer will be able to advocate on your behalf to ensure that you receive the medical care and workers' compensation benefits you are entitled to. In addition, if your injury may keep you from working permanently, a lawyer can advise you about filing for Social Security disability benefits as well.
Most states offer vocational services to individuals that are unable to return to work in their former jobs due to an industrial injury. A workers' comp attorney can assist you in navigating the system so that you are most likely to receive retraining or monetary payment to assist you while you obtain alternate employment.
If any aspect of your claim is in dispute with your employer, or your employer's insurance company, it is important for you to obtain an attorney. In many states, the dispute process is highly legal, involving complex legal rules and procedures. You will likely be at a disadvantage if you do not retain an attorney to represent your interests in these proceedings.
Word of mouth, internet search engines, and advertising can all lead you to qualified workers' comp attorneys. But you won't know you've found the right attorney until you actually speak to them during a free consultation. Virtually every workers' comp attorney offers a brief, no-cost initial interview during which you explain the circumstances of your case and the attorney describes how the workers' comp process works.
During your initial consultation, the attorney will ask you questions to apprehend whether your claim has a chance of success and what its potential value might be. But this is also your chance to interview the attorney to see if they're the right fit for you. Some questions you might want to ask include:
Make sure you're comfortable with the attorney's answers to these questions before agreeing to sign a representation agreement. If you don't have the confidence that this attorney will work hard on your case and maintain open lines of communication, find another attorney who will.
Most attorneys specializing in workers' compensation will give you a free consultation, usually thirty to forty minutes, to review your claim and assess whether you need an attorney. The attorney should be candid regarding your need for legal representation and your chances of success if you are considering appealing an adverse decision. The attorney can help you decide if you need representation. And in fact, if your case is fairly minor, the attorney may tell you that he or she isn't interested in taking your case.
One important item to note: typically, workers' compensation attorneys will represent you on a contingent basis. This means that the attorney will take a portion of the workers' comp benefits you receive as a result of the attorney's representation, but if you don't win any benefits, you won't owe the attorney anything.
Speaking to an attorney sooner, rather than later, can ensure that your claim is on the right track from the beginning. It is easier for the attorney to gather evidence and push your claim in the right direction early in your claim, instead of catching up if your claim is already in litigation.
If your workplace injuries are relatively minor, you expect to go back to work with your employer at your current job after a few days' or weeks' recovery, and you do not expect your workplace injury to result in permanent loss of bodily function, you may not need to hire an attorney.
For example, if you suffered an uncomplicated broken arm at work and the workers' comp insurance company paid your medical bills and a weekly benefit for the time you've been off work, and now your doctor has released you to go back to work without limitations and you feel completely healed, you probably don't need to contact an attorney. But if you don't feel that you are completely healed, or you aren't comfortable signing a settlement with your workers' comp insurance company (that will probably require you to give up any future rights to compensation or medical care for your injury), you should arrange for a free consultation with a workers' comp attorney.