Workers’ compensation cases: All attorneys are not the same.
If you have been hurt on the job in Illinois or Missouri, you already know getting help can be a confusing and frustrating process. If your work-related injury interferes with your ability to work, prevents you from performing at the level you did before your injury and/or has caused you to lose income from an inability to work (days off) or from medical bills as a result of your injury, you have a workers’ compensation case and it’s time to talk with an attorney.
But, how do you know an attorney is qualified to represent you? Attorneys specialize in different areas of the law. All attorneys are not qualified to handle all legal matters. Just like you wouldn’t hire a family practice doctor to do brain surgery, you should not hire a bankruptcy or real estate lawyer to handle your workers’ compensation claim (and vice versa). Here’s what you should do:
You will want the answers to the following questions, either by asking the attorney directly, looking at their website, talking to friends and family members who had a positive experience with a work comp attorney or, better yet, all of the above.
1.) How long you have been practicing work comp law?
2.) Have you handled cases before the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission and/or the Missouri Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, Division of Workers’ Compensation?
3.) Can you provide examples of cases you have won similar to mine? (You are looking for the name of the case, such as Smith v. John Doe Construction).
4.) How many times have you dealt with a Workers’ Compensation Insurance Company and their adjusters?
5.) Have you tried and won work comp cases at the hearing stage? How many times have you had to handle an appeal and won before the Circuit Court? The Appellate Court? (Sometimes cases decided by the Workers’ Compensation Arbitrator are appealed through the Circuit and even Appellate Court. You don’t want to have to switch attorneys if this happens in your case. Hire someone with experience from the beginning).
Establish an understanding
If the attorney you are looking to hire has answered all your questions regarding their experience, there are still a few more considerations. Ask the attorney:
6.) Do you believe I have a solid case?
7.) When can I call you? How quickly should I expect my calls to be returned?
8.) How long do you think it will take to get a decision? (Don’t be alarmed if the attorney says your case could take 1-2 years. You should be alarmed if the attorney says they will take your case but they do not think it is a good one.)
Ultimately, you will want to be comfortable discussing your personal situation with the attorney you choose. As you establish an initial rapport, ask yourself “Is the attorney easy to talk with”? “Are they respectful of me”? Also, does he or she use a lot of legal terms you do not understand, or is he or she able to break things down into common language?
What will this cost me?
Most people know work comp attorneys don’t charge unless they recover benefits for you. But, there is more to it than that. What percentage will the attorney take as a fee? Will the attorney take a percentage of your “back pay”, medical bills, just the permanency/wage differential benefits or take a percentage of all of them? Take care to get a complete answer and know how much you will owe the attorney if you win, or if you are not successful. You should get these terms in writing. If the attorney asks for a “retainer” (upfront money to represent you) or won’t give you the terms in writing, these are red flags and you should not hire that person as your workers’ compensation attorney.
Remember, anyone hurt on the job in Illinois or Missouri is entitled to legal advice. You do not need permission from your boss to talk to with a workers’ compensation attorney. Your initial interview with the attorney you are looking to hire should be free. It is important to use this time to get answers to the questions above.
In the end, you and your attorney should be in partnership toward the goal of securing the workers’ compensation benefits you deserve you.