Workers’ comp lawyers in Vermont, like in most other states, are only paid if you win your case. This means that if you do not recover any benefits at all, you won’t owe any attorneys’ fees. In some cases, the insurance company can be required to pay for some or all of your legal fees. (To learn how much you might receive, see our article on workers’ compensation benefits in Vermont.)
Many states place caps on what lawyers can charge in workers’ compensation cases. However, in Vermont, workers and lawyers are free to negotiate their own fee arrangements. In workers’ comp cases, attorneys generally charge a contingency fee: a percentage of the compensation the lawyer recovers for you. While the exact percentage will depend on the lawyer, a fee of around 33% is common.
Most of the time, workers’ compensation cases settle before a workers’ comp hearing. However, if you go to a hearing and win, you can ask the Vermont Workers’ Compensation Commission for an award of reasonable attorneys’ fees—which will be paid by the insurance company. Although less common, you can also receive an attorneys’ fees award if your case is resolved before a hearing, if:
The commission has discretion to award fees based on an hourly rate or a contingency fee. In 2017, hourly fees cannot exceed $205 per hour for attorneys and $75 per hour for paralegals. A contingency fee cannot exceed 20% of your award. The insurance company will pay the fees in a lump sum directly to your lawyer.
The above caps only apply to attorneys’ fee awards from the Commission. If you agreed to pay your attorney more than what is awarded by the commission, you will be responsible for paying the remainder of the fee.
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 compensation at the end of your case. If you win at a workers’ comp hearing, you can ask the commission to order the insurance company to pay your legal costs.
Although not required by law, most Vermont 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.)