Our office is contacted frequently by people who have been hurt on the job and are curious about what their rights are under the Illinois Worker’s Compensation Act, but they are just not sure whether they want to hire a lawyer or not. There are a number of reasons people give us – that they do not want to make waves at work, that they have been treated OK by the insurance company before, that they are just not the “suing type,” and a whole series of other reasons.
As much as you would like to handle your case in a decent, honorable, straight-forward way, you have to keep in mind that the adjuster for the insurance company has a job, and that is to minimize the total cost of every claim, including yours, for the insurance company. The better that they do their job, the less you get. And you can be sure that their performance is being closely watched by the supervisors at the insurance company.
There are a lot of good reasons that that you should hire a worker’s compensation lawyer:
• Hiring a worker’s compensation lawyer is not expensive
Worker’s compensation lawyers work on a contingency basis, meaning that they are paid a percentage of the settlement or award. These fees are capped at 20% of the settlement for almost all cases. There is no retainer fee, there are no upfront charges, no fees for phone calls or letters – fees get paid only at the end of the case, and only if you get a settlement or award. Moreover, since the fee is based on how much the recovery is, you will never end up in a situation where “the lawyer takes everything, and I get nothing.” Also, since the lawyer makes more money when you get a larger settlement, it creates a powerful incentive to work hard on your behalf.
• Verifying that you are receiving the benefits you should be receiving
One of the most important variables in worker’s compensation cases is the average weekly wage. It is the basis on the amount of the disability checks you receive while you are off work, and is the basis of the settlement you receive at the end of the case. If the insurance company undervalues your average weekly wage, you could be shorting yourself of thousands of dollars during the course of your case between receiving lower disability checks while you are off work and a lower settlement than you are really entitled to.
When you are entitled to other benefits such as job retraining or modifications to your home, having a lawyer ready to assist you can help you make sure that you get the benefits you should be receiving.
• Making sure that your rights are protected
When you are dealing with directly with the adjuster yourself, you may not be aware of what your rights are under the Illinois Worker’s Compensation Act. For example, you may be told that you cannot claim a back injury because you had a pre-existing condition (not true, by the way), or you may be sent to the company doctor for multiple “independent” medical exams, or have a nurse case manager assigned to your case who interferes with your relationship with your doctor. Having a lawyer in your corner helps prevent the insurance company from treating you unfairly and violating your rights.
• Being ready to resolve any problems
Many people decide to hire a lawyer only after a serious problem has arisen in their case: their benefits have been cut off or needed medical care has been denied. There are procedures for resolving these kinds of issues relatively quickly. This is done by requesting a hearing at the Worker’s Compensation Commission and presenting medical evidence. To do this, there needs to be a case on file and the lawyer needs to obtain your medical records. Doing this does not take long, but it will seem like forever when you have been cut of from your benefits.
If you already have a lawyer when problems arise, he should be able to act quickly to help you. If you do not hire after lawyer until after a serious problem has already happened, the lawyer will not be in a position to help you right away, when you need the help most.
• Having the benefit of experience and guidance
For almost everyone who goes through it, being involved in a worker’s compensation case is a strange situation to find yourself in. You may be receiving advice from friends, family members, co-workers, or even supervisors, some of which may seem strange, confusing, and even contradictory. You cannot count on the insurance company to give you straight advice as to what your rights are because their best interest is served by minimizing the amount of compensation and benefits that they have to pay to you. You need to have the advice and guidance of someone who really understands how the system works and what your rights really are.
• Evaluating your case for settlement
One question that almost every client we speak to has is, “What is my case worth?” One of the real benefits of hiring a lawyer is that they bring their experience and knowledge to bear on this issue. No two cases are alike, and relying on the advice of friends, neighbors, or even co-workers (“My neighbor’s sister-in law had a worker’s comp case and she get $________”) on this point is foolish. Skilled worker’s compensation lawyers draw on their skills and experience, their knowledge of how worker’s compensation cases are settled, and the range in which certain kinds of injuries are settled to make recommendations to the client regarding settlement. If you do not have that kind of background, you are flying blind.
• Screening for third party liability cases
If you were injured in an accident which was the fault of someone other than your self, a co-worker, or your employer, you can file a civil lawsuit in addition to pursuing your worker’s compensation case. The civil lawsuit is known as a third party liability suit. You do not have to choose between them – you can do both. Being able to pursue both can provide you with thousands of dollars in additional compensation for your injuries. Worker’s compensation lawyers know when there is a potential third party liability suit and can give guidance as to whether it is worth pursuing.