In Colorado, most workers’ compensation attorneys are paid on a contingency fee basis: You do not pay a fee unless your lawyer helps you recover workers’ comp benefits—usually in the form of a settlement or award by a workers’ comp judge. (To learn more about how much you could receive, see our article on Colorado workers’ comp benefits.)
In Colorado, workers’ comp attorneys’ fees must be reasonable and must be approved by the Colorado Division of Workers’ Compensation. After your claim is resolved, your lawyer must request approval of his or her fees within 180 days.
In most cases, reasonable attorneys’ fees are 20% of your disputed benefits. (Your lawyer typically cannot charge a fee on benefits that the insurance company voluntary pays.) However, the Division may decide to award a lower or higher fee in some cases. When deciding on an appropriate fee, the Division considers:
You might also be able to negotiate a lower fee with your lawyer, especially if your case is very straightforward.
In most circumstances, Colorado workers’ comp lawyers are not allowed to charge a contingency fee on unpaid medical benefits. For example, if your workers’ comp claim was denied and you’re seeking reimbursement of medical expenses as part of your claim, your lawyer can’t take a portion of those payments.
However, there is an exception to this rule when your lawyer is only helping you with a dispute over medical benefits. In these situations, the lawyer can charge either a reasonable hourly fee or a contingency fee of up to 20 percent—subject to the approval of the Division.
Legal costs are expenses related to your claim, such as the cost of copying medical records, hiring expert witnesses to testify on your behalf, and transcribing deposition testimony. It is nearly impossible to win a disputed workers’ comp claim without incurring at least some of these expenses.
The injured worker is typically responsible for the legal costs associated with a claim. Thankfully, though, most workers’ comp lawyers will pay for legal costs up front and deduct them from your award or settlement. If you lose your claim, some lawyers won’t charge you for legal costs. However, not all lawyers are willing to advance or waive legal costs. Make sure you understand the lawyer’s policies before you sign his or her fee agreement.
Most Colorado workers’ comp lawyers offer a free initial consultation for injured workers. At this consultation, you typically will discuss your workers’ comp claim and the lawyer’s terms for representing you (such as the lawyer’s policies on fees and legal costs). If, for any reason, you are uncomfortable with a lawyer, do not sign his or her fee agreement. Keep looking until you find a lawyer whom you trust.
Not every injured worker will need to hire a lawyer. However, most injured workers with disputed claims can benefit from the help of an experienced workers’ comp lawyer. If the insurance company denies or reduces your benefits, you will need to appeal that decision—which often requires extensive legal, medical, and vocational knowledge. A Colorado workers’ comp lawyer can help you navigate the appeals process—with little to no upfront costs. (See our article on the challenges of handling your own workers’ comp claim for more information.)