Washington workers’ comp lawyers charge contingency fees: a percentage of any settlement or award that you receive in your case. In other words, you don’t pay your lawyer unless you win your claim and recover benefits. (To learn how much you could receive, see our article on Washington workers’ comp benefits.)
Washington sets out specific attorneys’ fee procedures in its workers’ comp law. All attorneys’ fees must be approved by the Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals. To receive attorneys’ fees, your lawyer must file a written application with the board within one year of your settlement or award.
All attorneys’ fees must be reasonable. If your claim is relatively simple, the board may reduce your lawyer’s requested fee. The board considers several factors when deciding whether a fee is reasonable, including the nature of your claim, the complexity of its issues, and the time and labor involved.
Washington workers’ compensation law also sets limits on attorneys’ fees. No matter how complex your case, your lawyer cannot charge you more than the following amounts:
You will only pay attorneys’ fees on benefits that the lawyer helped you obtain. Lawyers cannot collect fees on benefits that are voluntarily paid to you by the insurance company.
Example: Suppose your workers’ compensation claim was voluntarily paid for two months. When your benefits were cut off, you hired a lawyer for the appeal. Your lawyer successfully appeals the case, and the board awards you $10,000 in unpaid benefits. Your lawyer would be eligible for up to $3,000 in attorneys’ fees (30% of $10,000 = $3,000). You would not pay attorneys’ fees on the benefits that you received for the first two months.
Legal costs are expenses related to your claim, such as the cost of copying medical records, hiring expert witnesses to testify at your hearing, and transcribing deposition testimony. While most lawyers do their best to keep these costs low, it is nearly impossible to win a workers’ compensation appeal without incurring some of these expenses. You typically are financially responsible for these costs.
Thankfully, most workers’ comp lawyers will not require you to pay for legal costs up front. Instead, they pay these costs as they are incurred and then deduct them from your award or settlement. Many lawyers will also waive legal costs if you lose your claim. However, not all lawyers operate this way. Make sure you understand the lawyer’s policy on legal costs before you sign a contract hiring the lawyer.
Most Washington workers’ comp lawyers offer free initial consultations. If you are injured on the job and the insurance company denies or reduces your benefits, you should seriously consider hiring a Washington workers’ comp lawyer. A workers’ comp lawyer can significantly increase your chances of receiving benefits, and you will pay little to no upfront costs. (See our article on the challenges of handling your own workers’ comp claim for more information.)