In Minnesota, workers’ compensation lawyers typically charge a contingency fee: a percentage of your award or settlement. The primary benefit of a contingency fee is that you only pay your lawyer if you receive workers’ compensation benefits through a settlement or award by a judge. (To learn how much you could receive in benefits, see our article on Minnesota workers’ comp benefits.)
Minnesota workers’ compensation law sets maximum attorneys’ fees for most claims. Currently, the maximum contingency fee is 20% of the first $130,000. The lawyer’s total fees cannot exceed $26,000 per injury. If the lawyer stays within these limits, a judge does not need to approve the amount of his or her fees.
Attorneys are only allowed to charge fees on benefits that the insurance company refused to pay. In other words, your lawyer cannot take a fee on benefits that he or she didn’t help you get.
Example: The insurance company voluntarily pays your workers’ comp benefits for six months but then denies your claim. On appeal, the judge awards $20,000 in unpaid benefits. Your lawyer will receive $4,000 in attorneys’ fees (20% of $20,000). You would not pay attorneys’ fees on the benefits that you received during the first six months.
In the past, Minnesota used a different contingency fee structure. If you were injured before October 2013, contact a workers’ comp lawyer for more information about the fee structure in place at that time.
Under certain circumstances, a lawyer can request a fee that is greater than Minnesota’s maximum fee. Before approving a larger fee, a judge must consider:
Typically, judges only award fees larger than 20% in very complicated, lengthy appeals.
Some workers’ compensation claims are primarily for medical or vocational benefits. Because contingency fees can only be taken out of disability benefits, lawyers stand to collect little to no fees in these types of cases. To encourage lawyers to handle medical-only or vocational-only claims, Minnesota law requires employers and their insurance companies to pay separate attorneys’ fees for these types of claims (sometimes called Roraff and Heaton fees, after the court decisions requiring these payments). You are not responsible for paying these fees.
Minnesota workers’ comp law requires lawyers to follow a specific process before taking attorneys’ fees. Your lawyer must:
If you or the insurance company disagrees with the lawyer’s request for fees, you have ten days to file an appeal.
Lawyers incur legal costs in almost every workers’ comp claim. For example, your lawyer might need to request copies of your medical records, hire expert witnesses to testify on your behalf, and pay court reporter fees for transcribing deposition testimony. Most of the time, the client is financially responsible for these legal costs.
However, many lawyers do not demand upfront payment of legal costs. Instead, they pay these costs throughout your case and then deduct them from your award or settlement. Some lawyers will even agree to waive legal costs if you lose your claim. Before you sign a fee agreement, make sure you understand your lawyer’s policies on legal costs.
Most Minnesota workers’ comp lawyers will meet with you for a free initial consultation. If you are injured on the job and your benefits are denied or reduced, you should seriously consider hiring a Minnesota workers’ comp lawyer. Typically, you will have little to no upfront costs. And, a workers’ comp lawyer can significantly increase your chances of receiving benefits. (See our article on the challenges of handling your own workers’ comp claim for more information.)