Like most other states, California places a cap on attorneys’ fees in workers’ compensation cases. Lawyers typically take workers’ comp cases on a contingency fee basis. Instead of charging by the hour, your lawyer will take a percentage of the benefits he or she is able to secure for you. In California, the typical contingency fee in a workers' comp case is between 9% and 15%, depending on the complexity of the case.
Your lawyer’s fee primarily comes out of your permanent disability benefits. This is a sum of money awarded to workers who have a permanent impairment as a result of the work injury. (To learn more, see our article on how permanent disability benefits are calculated in California.) Lawyers typically don’t take a fee from temporary disability benefits, which are routinely paid when a doctor orders you to take time off work. However, your lawyer may take a fee if he or she secures temporary disability benefits for you after they were denied.
Your attorney’s fee must be approved by the California Workers’ Compensation Board. When deciding on an appropriate fee, the board will consider:
Because the board has final approval of your lawyer’s fees, you might end up paying less than what your lawyer charged you in your retainer agreement (the service contract between you and your lawyer). For example, suppose your lawyer charges you 15%, but he or she was able to get a good result for you without too much work. In that case, a workers’ comp judge might approve a 10% fee.
Workers’ comp attorneys will generally meet with you for a free consultation before deciding to take on your case. To learn more, see our page on finding and hiring a workers’ compensation lawyer.