In North Dakota, workers’ comp attorneys’ fees are often paid by the Department of Workforce Safety and Insurance (WSI). However, employees must participate in the state's informal dispute resolution process, as explained below. (To learn how to report your work injury, see our article on how to file a North Dakota workers’ compensation claim.)
In North Dakota, employers are insured by the state, as opposed to third-party insurance companies. This means WSI reviews, accepts, and pays out workers’ comp claims. If your claim is denied, you have to challenge the decision with WSI. The Decision Review Office (DRO) is an independent organization set up by the North Dakota legislature that helps employees and WSI work together to try and resolve disputes. If you participate in the DRO resolution process and receive a certification of completion, WSI will pay for your attorneys’ fees.
North Dakota law places very specific caps on how much WSI pays in attorneys’ fees, based on how far the case progresses. WSI pays attorneys an hourly rate of $150, except for travel time, which is paid at $75 per hour. However, the lawyer’s total fees cannot be more than 20% of the amount awarded to you in benefits (not counting the benefits included in an initial determination). In addition, your attorney is limited to a fee between $1,700 and $11,300, depending on how far your case progresses.
These caps only apply to attorneys’ fees paid by the state. Workers and lawyers are free to negotiate their own fee arrangements.
After your case is resolved, your attorney will send a signed fee statement to WSI, and WSI will pay the statement as long as the fee requested is under the cap.
Costs incurred by your lawyer in pursuing your case—which may include deposition fees, copying costs, or expert witness fees (to have a doctor testify on your behalf, for example)—are not included in your lawyer’s fee. Workers’ comp lawyers will often agree to pay for these costs up front and seek reimbursement later. If your lawyer is entitled to have his or her fees paid by WSI, your legal costs will be reimbursed by WSI as well.
Although not required by law, most North Dakota workers’ comp lawyers offer free consultations to injured workers. This initial meeting can help you determine whether you need a lawyer’s help and how much you might expect to receive in your case. (For information about how to choose a lawyer, see our article on what to look for in a workers’ comp lawyer.)