Workers’ comp lawyers in South Dakota, 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 don’t 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 South Dakota.)
South Dakota places caps on how much lawyers can charge in workers’ compensation cases. The amount varies depending on how the case is resolved:
Because the vast majority of workers’ comp cases settle, most workers’ comp lawyers end up charging 25% of your settlement or award. Although you can try to negotiate a lower fee with your lawyer, most lawyers charge the maximum rate. This is because lawyers have to spend a significant amount of time on workers’ comp cases and the cap is relatively low compared to other types of cases where lawyers can expect to earn up to 40% of their client’s award.
Your lawyer can only take a percentage of benefits that were in dispute. For example, if the insurance company agreed to pay temporary disability benefits from the beginning, your lawyer will not receive a fee on those amounts.
Legal fees must be approved by the South Dakota Department of Labor and Regulation in each case. If you have a hearing or trial in your case, attorneys’ fees will be covered in the department’s written award. If you settle your case, attorneys’ fees will be spelled out in the settlement agreement, which must be submitted to the department 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 fee. Workers’ comp lawyers will often agree to pay for these costs up front and then deduct them from your settlement or award. However, some lawyers might require you to pay for legal costs up front, so be sure to ask about this when interviewing lawyers.
Although not required by law, most South 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.)