Should I hire a lawyer for my workers’ comp claim?
Q. I was hurt on the job and can no longer work. My employer is refusing to pay me workers’ compensation benefits. I called the Workers’ Compensation Agency in Lansing and they sent me an Application for a Hearing to fill out and send in. Can I handle this myself? Or do I need to hire and pay a lawyer?
A. You can handle the case yourself without a lawyer–but it is not a good idea. As a workers’ compensation attorney, I have some obvious motivation to encourage you to hire me, but seriously, there are too many things that can go wrong when a client represents him or herself without a lawyer. The good news is that workers’ compensation attorneys generally work on a contingency fee basis. In other words, we get paid only when we secure money for you. Attorneys in Michigan are regulated so that we can charge a fee of 30% of past due benefits and nothing on an award of future benefits. If a lump sum buyout is negotiated, attorneys charge 15% of the first $25,000 and 10% of every dollar higher. If nothing is recovered, there are no attorney fees.
Every now and then, we workers comp attorneys run into exasperated individuals who have been fighting for years to secure benefits on their own. Sometimes, by the time we see these people, the case is so screwed up, it is beyond repair. An injured worker is entitled to his day in court, but he or she is not entitled to a “do-over’ if things don’t go well the first time around at trial. During the trial, to secure weekly benefits, an injured worker has the burden of proving that he or she sustained a work injury in employment covered under the Act that prevents him or her from performing work within his or her qualifications and training that pays at the worker’s maximum wage earning capacity. An experienced workers’ compensation attorney will know what witnesses need to testify and will know what questions to ask each witness. An experienced workers’ compensation attorney will know what other evidence needs to be admitted and how to get that evidence admitted. Although one might think so, an injured worker can not just show up at trial, hand the magistrate a stack of medical records and tell the magistrate what the doctors have said about the worker’s condition. The attorney representing the employer will be howling “OBJECTION! HEARSAY!” Courts, including the Workers’ Compensation Agency, have a rule of evidence that a party can not offer into evidence a statement made out of court unless that statement falls within one of the many specific exceptions to the hearsay rule. Usually, medical evidence is admitted into the record by taking the deposition testimony under oath of key medical experts before the actual day of the trial. An experienced workers’ compensation attorney will be familiar with the phony doctors frequently hired to testify for insurance companies and in a position to savagely cross-examine them. We will also be alert to any new issues that the Defendant may raise unexpectedly at trial and know what kind of response is required in rebuttal. While you could call any attorney in the phone book and he or she may be able to negotiate a settlement of your claim for you, you are better off with an attorney experienced in workers’ compensation who knows how to win workers’ comp cases at trial. An attorney who knows how to win in these types of cases will be able to negotiate the best settlement possible, know when to settle, and know when to go to trial. The workers’ compensation law was created to assist people in your situation. Do not be intimidated by the system, walk away from your rights and let your employer deny what is rightfully yours. On the other hand, you should not try to tackle this all by yourself. Let us do the work for you and give us a call.