Workers’ comp lawyers in Pennsylvania, like in most other states, are paid on a contingency fee basis. This means that your lawyer will take a percentage of the proceeds of your workers’ comp settlement or award. If you do not recover any benefits at all, you won’t owe any attorneys’ fees. (To learn how much you might receive, see our article on workers’ compensation benefits in Pennsylvania.)
By law, Pennsylvania workers’ comp lawyers cannot charge more than 20% of your settlement or award. This fee will come out of your compensation, so you won't have to pay your lawyer up front. Although you can try to negotiate a lower fee with your lawyer, most lawyers charge the maximum contingency fee. This is because lawyers have to spend a significant amount of time on workers’ comp cases, and the 20% cap is relatively low compared to other types of cases.
If you win at a hearing, and the judge finds that your employer unreasonably disputed your claim for benefits, the judge might order your employer to pay your attorneys’ fees. The judge will award your attorney a reasonable fee based on the time your lawyer spent on the case. Your employer must pay these fees, so they will not be deducted from your award. However, if you have an agreement with your lawyer that calls for a higher fee than the one awarded by the court, the difference might still come out of your award.
Legal fees must be approved by a workers’ compensation judge in each case. If you have a hearing or trial in your case, attorneys’ fees will be approved (or modified) in the judge’s written award. If you settle your case, attorneys’ fees will be spelled out in the settlement agreement, which must be submitted to a workers’ compensation judge for approval.
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 fees. If you win at a hearing, a workers’ comp judge can order your employer to pay your legal costs. Otherwise, costs will be handled according to your fee agreement with your lawyer. Workers’ comp lawyers often agree to pay for these costs during your case and then deduct them from your settlement or award. The Division must approve legal costs as well.
Although not required by law, most Pennsylvania 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).