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If you’ve been injured in a work-related accident, or a cumulative trauma that you have suffered over time has begun to interfere with your ability to work, it can be a confusing and frustrating time. Your life can suddenly become full of worries. What about my job? Will I ever be able to return to work? How will I provide for my family? What if my injury means a long-time convalescence? How will I pay the medical bills, the mortgage or the kids’ college fees?
You may know that you are eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. And depending upon the severity of your injury, those benefits could last anywhere from a few weeks to a lifetime. But you might not know how to file a workers’ comp claim, deal with an insurance company claim adjuster or mandatory doctors’ visits or how to gather all the information you need to make a claim. If you make decisions before getting legal advice, those decisions could create serious problems without even knowing it.
What you need is a workers’ compensation lawyer. The job of a workers’ compensation lawyer is to help you make decisions, prepare your case, assist with gathering all your documentation and guide you through the landscape of filing a workers’ compensation claim. But before you hire this kind of attorney, you should ask many questions to help you select the right one. In fact, you should continue to ask questions throughout the entire process.
Questions You Should Ask an Attorney Before Hiring Them
If you did an internet search for workers’ compensation attorneys in Pennsylvania, your search probably yielded many results. How do you know which one is the right one for you? Ask these critical questions of any workers’ compensation attorney you are considering hiring.
1. How long have you been practicing law?
This is to help you gauge how comfortable you are working with an attorney who may be relatively inexperienced. You may feel more comfortable if you are working with a long-established lawyer. Then again, you may find a younger lawyer’s aggressiveness and eagerness to do a good job more to your taste.
2. Do you handle many workers’ compensation cases?
This is a critical question to ask. It can play a huge role in your future and the future of your family. A lawyer may be an excellent lawyer but may not have much experience in the workers’ compensation field. Lawyers who work in a variety of areas may do some work on your workers’ compensation case one day, and then help another client fight a traffic ticket the following day.
You want to know where the attorney you’re speaking with concentrates their energies. If a lawyer works in a lot of different areas, this is probably not the best choice for you, particularly if you’re nervous about your workers’ compensation claim. You want to find a lawyer who can provide you with the best representation possible and who understands the ins and outs of the workers’ compensation process, a lawyer who has experience dealing with insurance companies and knows the tricks they may try to pull to prevent you from receiving the benefits for which you are eligible.
3. How often have you represented who have suffered injuries similar to mine?
This question again goes to the area of a lawyer specialty. It’s important to find a lawyer who has experience with workers’ compensation claims, knows how to prepare a good case and has experience either fighting insurance companies or negotiating with them to come up with a fair settlement.
4. What is your success rate?
You obviously want to find a lawyer who’s had success in dealing with workers’ compensation claims. It’s much better to work with a lawyer who has a 70 percent to 80 percent success rate than one who has a 30 percent to 40 percent success rate even if they both specialize in the area of workers’ compensation.
The kind of lawyer you want to work with also depends on how you want to proceed with your case. Your attorney should be experienced and aggressive in Court AND skilled at negotiations to ensure top dollar if you choose at some point to settle your claim for a lump sum.
5. Will I have access to my attorney and any information that relates to my case?
Some attorneys treat their clients like mushrooms and think they need to be kept in the dark between meetings. While it’s true that attorneys can’t focus on your case all the time, you do need to know that you can speak to them when it’s important and that you can have access to any information they have collected. Being able to communicate directly with your attorney is crucial for both you and them.
6. How much do you charge?
There are two answers to this question.
In Pennsylvania, all workers’ compensation lawyers work on a contingency fee basis. The maximum attorneys’ fee they can charge is 20 percent of your weekly benefits for a specific period of time. It is possible for you to negotiate a smaller fee if your workers’ compensation claim is relatively straightforward or involves a minor injury. If your claim is denied, you will not owe any attorneys’ fees.
Legal costs are a different matter altogether. While all attorneys will strive to keep legal costs as low as possible, finding expert witnesses or gathering information can sometimes be costly. Most lawyers who work in the workers’ compensation field will cover all their upfront costs and then deduct them from your award once your case is settled. But this is not always the case, so it’s essential you ask your attorney what kind of costs you will be responsible for if your claim is approved or denied.
7. Who pays for litigation costs?
The details are in the fine print of any fee agreement with an attorney, and they are not always pretty. At Frommer D’Amico, we advance all litigation costs. These are costs to pursue your claim such as: costs for copying medical records, costs for transcripts in Court, costs of paying your doctor for reports or testimony. We often advance thousands of dollars in each case. At Frommer D’Amico, we do not ask you to advance those costs and your fee agreement with us does not require you to repay us. Before you sign with any attorney, make sure your are fully advised about litigation costs.
8. Will you take my case with no charge if we are not in Court?
Yes. At Frommer D’Amico, we offer free case management. That means you can hire us to give you advice, review records, and help you make strategic decisions at no charge. You do not even need to tell anyone you are getting legal advise if you do not want anyone to know that you have a lawyer.
Questions You Should Ask Your Attorney During the Claim Process
Now that you have found an attorney you like and can work with, you want to continue asking important questions.
1. Will it hurt my claim if I’m at fault for my injury?
Pennsylvania’s Workers’ Compensation program is a no-fault program. This means that it doesn’t matter if it was your carelessness or your boss’s carelessness that led to your injury, you are still eligible for workers’ compensation benefits.
There are some exceptions to this rule, however, you should know about. If you were drunk or under the influence of drugs when you were injured at work, you might be denied workers’ compensation. You may also be denied workers’ compensation if you were injured as a result of horseplay with co-workers while on the job.
There may be exceptions to these exceptions, and you should keep your workers’ comp attorney completely informed as to the nature of these incidents if they resulted in your injury.
2. Can I sue a third-party?
As we noted above, Pennsylvania operates under a no-fault rule in workers’ compensation claims. While this means that you can apply for workers’ compensation even if the work-related injury was your fault, you cannot sue your employer if your accident was their fault.
If your accident was the result of a third party, however, it may be possible to sue them. For instance, if a co-worker was responsible for your broken leg or damage to your eye, you can file a workers’ compensation claim, but you may also be able to file a personal injury lawsuit against your co-worker. Or if you are making a delivery for your company, and you slip and fall on a wet floor in another building, you could sue the owners of that building. Once your attorney knows the details of your case, they will be able to advise you on the best course of action.
3. What should I tell my doctor?
Everything. Especially if it’s your personal doctor. From the moment you suffer a work-related injury and seek immediate medical treatment, you should let all medical providers who treat you know that you were injured on the job. In Pennsylvania, the employer’s insurance company can limit payment to a specific list of physicians of their choosing during the first 90 days of your recovery, but only if your Employer provided you with a written list of physicians after the injury. After 90 days, you can see whatever physician you like as long as you give the insurance company five days’ notice that you’re changing your physician. If you need surgery, however, you can see any doctor you choose at any time for a consultation. But if you choose to have surgery, the Insurance company can try to compel you to have surgery with their doctor if the surgery is within the first 90 days of treatment AND the Employer provided you with a written list of approved physicians after the injury. If you were not provided with a written list of approved physicians, you may be able to treat with any doctor of your own choosing at any time.
Be truthful but careful with any company-appointed doctors. Answer the questions honestly and briefly. Avoid small talk. You can be much more open with your regular physician. They should know everything about your workers’ compensation claim.
Before you go to see your physician, you should ask your attorney for suggestions about questions to ask. Experienced workers’ compensation lawyers will have a good idea about the questions you need to ask your doctor, and they are often questions you have not considered.
4. What benefits can I receive?
In Pennsylvania, if your workers’ compensation claim is approved, whether initially or upon appeal, your employer’s workers’ compensation insurance company should pay for medical costs and wage loss benefits which amount to two-thirds of your average weekly wage as calculated over the past year. The most anyone can receive from workers’ compensation in wage loss benefits will be $1,049 per week during 2019. Depending upon the severity of your injury, you may also be eligible for partial permanent disability benefits, which can last up to 500 weeks, or total permanent disability benefits, which can last a lifetime. If your injury resulted in the permanent loss of the use of a body part, you might also be eligible to receive a Special Loss benefit.
In Pennsylvania, workers’ compensation does not provide any benefits for pain or suffering.
Once you and your attorney have discussed the details of your claim, they will be able to give you a better idea of the benefits for which you are eligible.
5. How long before I see any money?
In Pennsylvania, you have to miss 14 days of work before you can receive a payment that includes the first seven days of work that you missed. You need to have missed at least seven days from a work-related injury or illness before your workers’ compensation benefits become available to you.
It also depends upon when your workers’ compensation claim is approved. If your initial claim is denied, and you appeal this denial, it can take anywhere from three months to a year for your appeal to be approved and payments to start. If your claim is approved, however, you will receive back pay that will cover the months in which your appeal was taking place. Those payments will pay you for “back pay” from the first time that your work injury caused you to lose wages.
Questions You Should Ask Your Attorney Before You Return to Work
If you feel that you have recovered enough to return to your workplace or if your doctor has said that you can return to work with restrictions, there are some things that you should think about before you actually return to your job. When and how you return to work after a work injury should be discussed with your lawyer.
1. What if annuity settlement checks stop coming?
Some cases settle with a guaranteed number of future payments. Those payments should not stop when you return to work. If this happens, you should let your attorney know immediately. If your attorney and the insurance company have worked out a settlement that pays a guaranteed annuity, you should continue to receive all the payments you are due, regardless of your work situation. Your return to work should not cause these payments to stop.
2. What if I need additional medical attention?
Even if your doctor says that you can return to work with restrictions, your employer’s workers’ compensation insurance company should continue to pay for any medical treatments you receive until you have recovered fully.
If you and your attorney are negotiating a settlement with the insurance company, your attorney will probably analyze your future medical costs and provide you with a figure that you will need to ask for in the settlement that will cover any additional medical treatments in the future.
3. What if my workplace asks me to work outside my restrictions?
Before you do it, contact your attorney immediately. Even if you feel like you can do more, it’s important that you stick close to the restrictions that your doctor has provided. Before you return to work, you and your attorney should work with your employer on a plan that will allow you to work within the restrictions. You should give a copy of the restrictions to both your employer and the company’s workers’ compensation representative. It’s also a good idea to keep a copy with you when you return to work. If there are conflicting restrictions from different doctors, you absolutely should discuss this with your attorney before accepting or rejecting any job offers to best understand the legal ramifications.
If you work outside your restrictions or do something extra, the employer’s workers’ compensation insurance company may use it as a reason to argue that you’re in better health than your doctor has stated and will try to end your workers’ compensation benefits.
4. Should I quit my job?
No. As hard as it may be, it is probably better to remain at your job. If you quit your job, there is a significant risk that you will lose your wage loss benefits and some or all of your partial disability benefits.
If you feel that your employer is trying to force you to quit because you have filed a workers’ compensation claim by either assigning you to a job that is both tedious and unrewarding or by making workplace conditions so difficult that you want to leave, notify your attorney immediately. It is illegal for an employer to fire an employee because they have filed a workers’ compensation claim or to force them to quit.
Frommer D’Amico Is a Workers’ Compensation Firm You Can Trust to Give You the Best Results
All the attorneys at Frommer D’Amico specialize in workers’ compensation issues. We do our best to provide individual attention to each one of our clients, take their calls, answer their questions in a timely fashion, help with unpaid medical bills or late benefit checks and handle any major litigation that results from a workers’ compensation claim.
Many law firms offer a free consultation, but we offer free case management, which could save you thousands of dollars and means that more of your benefit checks go toward your needs. Contact us today if you need a workers’ compensation lawyer.
Joe D’Amico has more than 20 years of experience fighting for injured workers. He is Certified as an Expert in Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Law by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. Joe is one of the very few Pennsylvania workers’ compensation attorneys who have obtained a recovery in excess of $1.5 million for an injured worker.
Reviewed by Joe D’Amico.