When to Hire a Lawyer
The moment any complexity arises in your case is the moment you should hire an attorney. Here are some examples of situations that call for a lawyer’s intervention:
- Your employer denies your claim or doesn’t pay your benefits promptly. Employers and workers' comp insurers routinely reject bona fide workers' comp claims, confident that many workers will fail to appeal. Unfortunately, they're usually correct. Hiring a workers' comp attorney costs nothing up front (more on that later), and it gives you the best chance to receive a fair settlement or award for your injuries.
- Your employer's settlement offer doesn't cover all your lost wages or medical bills. If you're not sure a settlement offer is good enough, don't rely on the workers' compensation judge to make sure that you're getting a fair deal. Although workers' comp settlements must have judicial approval, judges will usually sign off on any agreement as long as it's not grossly unfair. If you really want someone to get you the best settlement possible, call an attorney.
- Your medical issues prevent you from returning to your prior job, limit what you can do at work, or keep you from performing any work at all. If you've suffered permanent disability—whether partial or total—you may be entitled to weekly payments (or a single lump sum) to make up for your lost wages. These cases can be very expensive for insurance companies, and they'll often stop at nothing to avoid paying you what you deserve. A knowledgeable workers' comp attorney is essential in cases involving permanent injuries or illness.
- You receive or plan to apply for Social Security disability benefits. If your settlement isn't structured properly, your workers’ comp benefits could significantly lower Social Security disability payments. An experienced attorney will understand how to draft your settlement agreement to minimize or eliminate this offset.
- Your boss retaliates against you for filing a workers' comp claim. If your employer has fired you, demoted you, slashed your hours, reduced your pay, or engaged in any other form of discrimination because you filed a workers' comp claim, contact a workers' comp attorney immediately to protect your legal rights.
- You were injured because of a third party’s actions or your employer’s serious misconduct conduct. The workers' comp system was designed to prevent civil lawsuits for work-related injuries. However, you are permitted to sue outside workers' comp in certain situations, including when someone other than your employer contributed to your injury (such as a negligent driver who hit you while you were driving for work), your employer doesn’t have workers’ comp insurance, or your employer intentionally caused your injury. An experienced lawyer will be able to explain how the law applies to your situation.
What Your Attorney Will Do for You
In addition to making sure you file all the necessary forms and meet the deadlines, an experienced attorney will know how to gather the evidence needed to support your case, negotiate effectively with the insurance company, and write a settlement agreement to avoid unanticipated consequences. If you can’t agree on a good settlement, an attorney can prepare for and represent you at the hearing or trial.
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 ability to work, a workers' com 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.
When You Do NOT Need an Attorney
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.