Whenever you need to hire a lawyer for a legal matter, an important consideration is always: What will the lawyer charge? If you hire a lawyer for a family matter – divorce or child support, for example – the lawyer will likely charge you an hourly rate. If you buy a home and hire a real estate lawyer to review the documents and attend your closing, you will probably be charged a set one-time fee.
What if you get injured and require the services of a lawyer? If your injury occurs outside of work – in a car accident or slip-and-fall – and you retain a lawyer, this will be a “personal injury” case and in all likelihood, you will enter into a Contingent Fee Agreement, and the lawyer’s fee will be somewhere between 33.3% and 40% of the amount you recover.
What if you hurt yourself at work? This could happen in many ways – lifting a heavy item in a warehouse, twisting your knee while stepping onto a forklift, even getting into a motor vehicle accident if it occurs in the course of your employment – the workers’ compensation insurance company for your employer may deny your claim in which case you will need to hire a workers’ comp. lawyer to file a petition on your behalf. In Pennsylvania, the standard attorneys’ fee – the maximum fee, in fact – is 20%, which is much lower a percentage that you would be charged in a personal injury case. You will enter into a Contingent Fee Agreement with the lawyer handling your workers’ comp. case, which will provide for the payment of a 20% fee. So how exactly will it work, and when will the lawyer receive the fee?
You will not be charged a fee until a Workers’ Compensation Judge approves the Contingent Fee Agreement. If a lawyer files a petition for you, evidence is presented, and the Judge writes a decision ruling in your favor (completely or in part), your lawyer will be entitled to 20% of your benefits awarded, past and in the future. If you lose, you will not have to pay any money because the lawyer’s fee is contingent upon you winning your case.
It’s also important that while your case is being presented to the Judge, your lawyer will have to pay money (these are called litigation costs) to obtain your medical records, receive transcripts of the proceedings in your case (depositions and hearings), and pay one of your doctors a fee for giving a deposition. This is by far the biggest expense because doctors charge thousands of dollars to do a deposition. If you win your case, the insurance company will be ordered by the Judge to reimburse your lawyer for the litigation costs paid out. If you lose your case, the insurance company will not be required to reimburse your lawyer. Under these circumstances, most law firms (definitely Pearson Koutcher) will “eat” the costs, and you will not be required to pay anything.
Let’s look at a different scenario. You injure yourself at work, and the insurance company does the right thing and picks up your claim. You begin to receive weekly workers’ comp. benefits. Issues arise concerning your claim for which you want answers, so in order to protect your rights, you hire a workers’ comp. lawyer. In a situation like this, because your entitlement to benefits is not being disputed, the lawyer will monitor your case by answering all your questions but not charging a fee.
So why would a lawyer be willing to provide services to you without receiving a fee? It’s simple. You can bet that at some point down the road, the insurance company will file a petition to terminate (cut off your benefits completely), suspend (cut off your checks but continue paying your medical bills), or modify (reduce the amount of your check but continue paying your medical bills). This petition will go before a Workers’ Compensation Judge, and you will need a lawyer to represent you and defend against this petition. After the first hearing in your case, your lawyer will submit the Contingent Fee Agreement, which the Judge will approve, allowing the lawyer to begin receiving 20% of your weekly benefits as a fee.
Whether your claim is initially denied or accepted, your lawyer can try to negotiate a settlement for you. If a settlement is reached, you will receive one lump sum, out of which the lawyer will receive 20%.
You may be frustrated and ask the question: Why should my workers’ comp. benefits be reduced by an attorneys’ fee when the insurance company should have picked up the claim in the first place? Good question. In any workers’ comp. case that is litigated before a Judge, the insurance company must establish that its contest of the claim was reasonable. In other words, they must convince the Judge that they fought your claim to resolve a genuinely disputed issue (for example, a witness for your employer said your injury didn’t happen, a doctor for the insurance company said you can return to your regular job) and were not merely trying to harass you.
If the Judge determines that the insurance company’s contest was unreasonable, some or possibly all of the benefits that you receive will not be subjected to a 20% fee because the insurance company will have to pay extra money based on the amount of time that your lawyer spent to litigate your case.
If you sustain a work injury, serious or minor, we urge you to contact Pearson Koutcher Law. Our firm is comprised exclusively of lawyers with more than 20 years of experience handling workers’ comp. cases. You will pay Pearson Koutcher a 20% fee if you win, and in the unlikely event that you lose, you will pay absolutely nothing. If you have an open claim but have questions, we will monitor your case without charging you money until a petition is filed against you or your case settles. And if the insurance company contests your case unreasonably, we will ask the Judge to award you additional money. So please call Pearson Koutcher for a free and comprehensive consultation.