If you’ve been hurt on the job, you’ll need a workers compensation attorney to maximize the value of your case. This page gives you 10 tips to follow in order to make sure you end up with the right workers comp lawyer. Or, if you want to skip the list, click here to find a workers compensation attorney near you.
1) Don’t Pay for a Consultation
The vast majority of workers compensation attorneys in California provide free consultations for new clients. If a workers comp lawyers asks you to pay for a consultation, even a small amount like $50, that should be a major red flag.
2) Insist On an In-Person Consultation with a Lawyer
Many work comp attorneys will perform the initial consultation over the phone. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But visiting the office reveals a few pieces of information that are important for potential clients. First, how much time is the attorney willing to spend with a prospective client? If you get only five minutes or less, that should tell you something about the level of service you’re going to receive. Some workers compensation attorneys spend 45 minutes to an hour with new clients. Second, what kind of operation is the law firm? If there are twenty five staff members but only an attorney or two, it’s unlikely that the lawyers are able to spend significant time working each individual case. Last, does the office looks like a well-run operation? Are there files and papers everywhere? Your case document will contain your private medical information. I’m sure you don’t just want them floating around an office for anyone who walks in to see.
3) Ask What Percent of the Lawyer’s Practice is Devoted to Workers Compensation
Workers Comp in California is a highly specialized practice. To be frank, most civil attorneys aren’t very good at workers compensation and probably would only get you so-so results. But that’s not to say that a lawyer must devote 100% of their practice to workers compensation. Many very good work comp lawyers also practice personal injury, employment, social security, and immigration law. Some even do criminal work. I would be wary of an attorney who practice less than 33% workers comp law. Every attorney is going to charge you 15% contingency. You might as well get one of the better workers comp lawyers.
4) Ask which WCAB District Office is the Attorney’s Home Board
The Workers Compensation Appeals Board has 24 district offices and satellite locations throughout California. Typically, work comp lawyers practice file all their cases at a single location. They may have a case here or there at another WCAB location, but the vast majority of their caseload will be venued at their “home board”. Since you’ll likely have to go to court a few times during the span of your workers compensation case, make sure that you’re okay traveling to your workers compensation attorney’s home board.
5) Ask What the Work Comp Lawyer’s Plan is if Your Case Gets Denied
Often times an insurance company will deny workers compensation claims, particularly if the claim is filed as a cumulative trauma. If you claim is denied, then the insurance company won’t pay for medical treatment and won’t pay disability benefits. Your workers comp attorney should have a plan for getting your case accepted. They should be able to get you medical treatment. But, for disability benefits, you’ll have to rely on California State Disability (EDD) if you qualify. Those benefits typically last 52 weeks. So, if your workers comp claim isn’t accepted within a year, your state disability benefits will run out.
6) Ask whether the Workers Comp Lawyer uses Hearing Reps or Contract Lawyers
Many workers compensation attorneys in California use non-attorney hearing reps and/or contract attorneys to help cover their calendars. There’s not hard and fast rule. There are plenty of extremely capable workers comp hearing reps out there. But you deserve to know beforehand who’s going to work on your case and who’s going to appear for your at WCAB hearings.
7) Bring pays stubs, your personnel file, and photocopies of all relevant communications with you to the consultation.
The easiest way for your workers compensation lawyer to get information is if you give it to them. Asking your employer or the insurance company takes time and frequently the request will go unanswered. Any information you have will be useful to your work comp lawyer. This is particularly so for communications where you told your supervisor or another employee that you sustained an injury.
8) Interview 2-3 Workers Compensation Attorney Before You Decide
There are hundreds and hundreds of capable workers comp lawyers in California. It makes no sense to go with one of the few bad ones just because he or she met with your first. Get to know the workers comp lawyer and their staff before you decide. The initial consultation is a great time to do this. Don’t let them pressure you into signing up right there. Politely, but firmly, explain that your still interview prospective attorneys and you don’t plan on deciding until you’ve met everyone. If you have a good case, they won’t mind waiting a few days.
9) Be Careful What You Sign
Some workers comp attorneys ask that new clients to sign what’s called a limited power of attorney or limited attorney-in-fact. This document gives the workers compensation lawyer the authority to sign documents on your behalf. The exact authority will be spelled out in the document. There may be good reasons for a work comp lawyer to ask you to sign one these, such as reducing the hassle of routine paperwork. But, remember, the client has the absolute authority to decide whether to accept a settlement. If a potential workers compensation attorney asks you to sign away that rights, you should get up and leave immediately.
10) Don’t Be Afraid to Get a New Attorney
If you’re not happy with your workers comp attorney, don’t be afraid to get a new one. There are hundreds and hundreds of workers comp lawyers in California and many of them are excellent attorneys AND provide quality client service. If you have a good case, then you should be able to switch attorneys relatively easily.
Keep Reading to Learn More About Workers Compensation in California
This article discusses what benefits are available to injured workers through the California workers compensation system. Keep reading to learn more to learn more about workers comp.
Workers Compensation is a No-Fault System
Workers compensation in California is a no-fault system. This means if you get hurt on the job, your employer has to pay benefits no matter whose fault the accident was. There are exceptions for things like intoxication and willful self-inflicted injuries though.
Reporting a Claim
If you’ve been hurt on the job, you should report your claim to your supervisor or HR. They should give you a claim form. Here’s a link to a claim form if you aren’t given one. Fill it out and hand it in.
You should be contacted by the insurance company’s claim examiner (also known as a claim adjuster) shortly. He or she is the person in charge of handling your workers compensation claim. A medical evaluation for you.
Retaliation is Illegal
It’s illegal for your employer to retaliate against you if you report a work injury.
What Benefits Does Workers Compensation Provide?
Workers Compensation provides 5 main benefits:
- medical treatment,
- temporary disability,
- permanent disability,
- a supplemental job displacement voucher, and
- death benefits.
Keep reading to learn more about each type of benefit.
Injured workers are entitled to all medical treatment necessary to cure or relieve their condition. This includes any therapy or medication that you might need. Injured workers are frequently provided with physical therapy and chiropractic treatment in the workers comp system.
Workers compensation provides treatment for life, unless you settle out this portion of your claim.
If a doctor takes you off work because of your work injury, you may be entitled to tax-free benefits of up to $1,128.43 per week (that’s the 2016 rate)
In workers compensation, temporary disability benefits are paid while injured workers recuperates from their injuries if they are unable to return to work. Benefits are paid at two-thirds of your weekly wage. The max rate is $1,128.43 (for 2016). In most cases, you can collect temporary disability benefits for up to 104 weeks.
If you are unable to make a full recovery and you suffer from permanent impairment, you may be entitled to permanent disability benefits. These tax-free benefits are paid at $290 per week (for 2016 dates of injury).
It impossible to predict how much permanent disability you’d be entitled to because the value is determined at the end of your case.
In some cases, a worker is declared 100% permanently disabled. If that’s the case, workers comp pays the temporary disability rate for life.
Supplemental Job Displacement Voucher
In some instances, injured workers are also entitled to a Voucher in the amount $6,000. It can be used for education-related retraining or skill enhancement, certain expenses related to occupational licensing or processional certification. Restrictions apply.
If a worker dies because of his or her work injury, workers compensation pays benefits to the worker’s dependents (e.g., spouse and children). These payment can go up to $320,000.
More Topics in California Workers Compensation Law
What You Need to Know About Work Comp Stress Claims
Why Is My Claim Denied?
Why is My Medical Treatment Getting Denied?