If you need assistance with your workers’ comp claim in Montana, you might be worried about the cost of an attorney. This is especially true if you’re off work and not receiving worker’s compensation benefits due to a claim denial. Fortunately, Montana workers' comp laws make it feasible to hire a lawyer. (See our article on workers' comp benefits in Montana to learn how much you might receive.)
Attorneys can charge in a variety of ways, but the most common in workers’ compensation cases is by a contingency fee. In a contingency fee arrangement, your attorney will take a percentage of your settlement or award, without charging you any fees upfront. Another, less common, alternative is paying your attorney on an hourly basis. All fee arrangements must be approved by the Montana Department of Labor and Industry, the state agency responsible for administering the worker’s compensation program.
Montana workers’ comp laws place limits on what attorneys can charge, depending on how your case is resolved. If your claim settles (like most claims do), the maximum fee is 20% of the settlement. If your claim goes to trial, the maximum fee is 25% of the trial award. Because there is usually more work involved for the attorney if the case goes to trial, the rate is higher.
Under Montana law, your attorney can voluntarily charge you less than the statutory maximum. In practice, though, this rarely happens. Generally, worker’s compensation attorneys’ fees are already less than fees taken in other areas of the law. Also, attorneys want to ensure that they are providing the same level of service to each client, which they can do by charging every client the same amount.
Your attorney can also fight for more than the statutory maximum percentages. This is called a “variance” and must be approved by the worker’s compensation department. Getting a variance approved is not an easy task, and your attorney will likely need to prove that your case was more complex, difficult, and time-consuming than other cases. The department will consider other factors as well, such as your attorney’s reputation, skill, and years of experience.
Your attorney can’t take a fee on medical or hospital benefits, unless those benefits were denied by the insurance company and your attorney had to fight to get them. The same goes for voluntary temporary disability payments made to you by the insurance company while you were off work or recovering from the injury.
In Montana, a workers’ comp attorney can charge by the hour instead of getting paid on a contingency fee basis. However, Montana law places the following restrictions on these types of arrangements:
Under Montana law, attorney’s fees must be paid out of a workers’ settlement or award. So, even if your lawyer charges on an hourly basis, it will still come out of your benefits at the end of your case.
In either fee arrangement, your attorney will charge you for legal costs related to your claim. Your lawyer might incur legal costs getting copies of your medical records, mailing or filing legal documents, or hiring a court reporter to transcribe depositions, for example. In some cases, your lawyer will pay for these costs throughout your case and then deduct them from your settlement or award. You’ll want to speak with your attorney about his or her policies on legal costs before signing a fee agreement.
Your attorney will have you sign a fee agreement at the outset of your case, which is then filed with the Montana Department of Labor and Industry. The fee agreement should include details about fees, costs, and the other issues discussed above. For more information, see our article about creating a fee agreement with your attorney.
Although it’s important to understand the details of your fee agreement, you should always choose your attorney based on skill, reputation, and trust. For more information about how to choose the right attorney, read our article on how to find an excellent lawyer.