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Legal Representation In The Division Of Workers’ Compensation

  • By: Lisa J. Pezzano
  • Published: October 6, 2020

If you have read the information in this website, 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?

Why Do I Need A Lawyer If The Insurance Carrier Is Paying My Medical Bills And Sending Me A Check Every Week?

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. See, Chapter 9 on Permanent Disability.

What Is The Cost Of Hiring An Attorney In a Workers’ Compensation Claim?

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. See, Chapter 10 regarding settlements.

What Documents Should I Bring To a Meeting With a Workers’ Compensation Lawyer?

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:

  1. Accident Report, if any.
  2. Paystub showing an “average” weekly wage prior to the accident.
  3. If your wages vary every week, bring your payroll records for the six-month period prior to the accident. If your wage varies depending upon the season, then you should also bring a W2 form, showing your annual wage.
  4. If you had more than one job at the time of the accident, bring a copy of your paystubs from the second job.
  5. Medical records in your possession following the accident, as well as a list of the names/addresses of all of your physicians.
  6. Medical records of any prior injury to the same part of your body. If you don’t have the records, bring a list of the names/addresses of all of your prior physicians.
  7. If the accident has not been admitted by your employer, try to obtain witness statements from your co-workers, or at least collect their names and contact information for your attorney.
  8. For occupational claims, a job description from your employer, with a list of all job duties. If you do not have a formal job description, then make a list of your daily work activities.
  9. A copy of any prior workers’ compensation awards. If you did not retain a copy of the Court Order, then provide the name of your prior attorney.
  10. Any correspondence you received from the workers’ compensation carrier containing your claim number and the name of the adjuster assigned to your case.

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.

Why Would It Be a Mistake To Hire The General Practice Attorney Who Handles Everything From Traffic Tickets to Divorces To Take My Workers’ Compensation Case?

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.

May I Change Attorneys, And If So, What Are The Implications To My Case?

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.

For more information on Legal Representation For Workers Compensation, a free initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling (908) 923-0020 today.

Lisa J. Pezzano

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