If you have read this manual, it should be abundantly clear that there will be legal ramifications to decisions made in the aftermath of a work injury, which will impact your medical and financial well-being in the future. The insurance carriers have an army of lawyers, doctors, and nurses at their disposal, whose goal is to minimize the amount of benefits paid on your claim. Shouldn’t you at least have one person with knowledge of the workers’ compensation system on your side?
Many workers’ compensation claims begin rather uneventfully, with the employer correctly reporting the claim and the insurance carrier assigning a doctor to provide medical treatment. Unfortunately, if you blindly follow the directives of the insurance carrier without first hearing legal advice you are more likely to be discharged prematurely from medical treatment. It is also quite common for insurance carriers to pay temporary disability benefits at the incorrect rate, which may be rectified by a competent attorney. Once you are discharged from medical treatment and returned to work it is highly doubtful that you will be fully compensated for your permanent injuries unless you are represented by an experienced workers’ compensation attorney.
No attorney should ever charge you a retainer for representing you in a workers’ compensation claim. If your claim has been denied, your attorney may ask you to obtain a copy of your medical records, including records regarding prior injuries. New Jersey law provides that physicians must provide copies of their medical records, at a charge of no more than $1.00 per page, up to a maximum of $100 per record. If your claim is viable, many attorneys will agree to pay these costs for you, to be reimbursed at the time of settlement.
The Workers’ Compensation Act provides for a maximum attorneys’ fee of 20% of the award. Please note that an attorney will not receive 20% of your temporary disability benefits. Rather, at the close of your case, when a settlement or judgment is entered on your behalf, the Court may award your attorney up to 20% of the permanent disability benefits or lump sum you are awarded. If you have the right to reopen your claim, the Court will generally order the insurance carrier to pay 60% of the attorney’s total fee, with the remainder to be paid out of the proceeds of your settlement funds. On the other hand, if you receive a “lump sum” settlement, all of the 20% attorney’s fee will be deducted from your award.
If possible, the following documents should be obtained and brought to your first appointment with a workers’ compensation attorney in order to successfully pursue a claim:
Although your attorney may obtain many of these documents through the discovery process or from your physicians, it is helpful to obtain this information in advance, to expedite the claims process.
There are attorneys out there who dabble in workers’ compensation law. These “jacks of all trades” are easily flummoxed by issues which are addressed on a daily basis by attorneys who regularly handle these claims. The New Jersey Division of Workers’ Compensation is very much a close circle of attorneys who often work together. If you hire an attorney who does not regularly appear in workers’ compensation court, your case is more likely to get sidetracked, as the attorney may be unfamiliar with the normal practices of the Judge assigned to your case, the style of his legal adversary, and which medical doctors may be trusted to render a fair opinion. Such attorneys are spotted immediately by Judges and experienced practitioners, and their clients unfortunately end up suffering the consequences of their lack of knowledge and poor technique.
Yes, you may change your attorney at any time. However, the further into the process you are, the more difficult it will be to switch attorneys. The attorneys’ fee remains at 20%, even if multiple attorneys work on your case. At the close of your case, the Court would split the fee among the attorneys, based upon the work performed by each one. Obviously, your case will become less attractive for a new attorney to take your case since he must share his fee with another lawyer. In addition, many attorneys shy away from taking over cases started by other lawyers. For this reason and others, it is important to retain the right attorney as soon as possible.
If you are unhappy with your current legal representation you may certainly consult with a new attorney. Most lawyers will insist upon speaking with your current attorney to determine the status of your claim and whether or not you are a difficult client. A competent attorney will run for the hills if you have unreasonable expectations, are overly demanding, or fail to answer questions directly.
Just remember that an attorney is also interviewing you, to determine whether your case is worth his time and effort. So if you are contacting a new attorney to evaluate your case, be prepared to recite a brief summary of the medical treatment you have received, the benefits you have been provided or denied by the workers’ compensation carrier, and an explanation of why you are unhappy with your current attorney. You should pick up a copy of your entire file from your current attorney, if possible, to make it as easy as possible for a new attorney to take over your case. The difficulty you may experience in changing legal representation highlights the importance of retaining the right attorney from the start of your claim.
Call Now For A Free Case Evaluation