Under Wisconsin workers’ compensation law, attorneys’ fees are contingent on you receiving workers’ compensation benefits. If you receive a settlement or award, the lawyer will take a percentage of that amount as payment. If you don’t receive benefits, the lawyer doesn’t get paid. (To learn about how much you might receive, see our article on Wisconsin workers’ comp benefits.)
Wisconsin law sets maximum attorneys’ fees in workers’ compensation claims. If your workers’ comp benefits are disputed, and the lawyer helps you recover benefits, the maximum contingency fee is 20% of the award or settlement. However, if the insurance company admits responsibility and the lawyer does not help you get an increased settlement offer or award, the fee is much lower. In these cases, the lawyer may take only 10% of the award, up to a maximum fee of $250.
While most lawyers charge the maximum fee of 20%, you might be able to negotiate a reduced fee with your lawyer—for example, if your case is very simple or if you stand to receive a large settlement or award. In addition, a workers’ comp judge must always approve a lawyer’s fee. A judge may award a lower fee if your claim was very simple and did not require a lengthy appeal.
Wisconsin imposes other restrictions on workers’ comp attorneys’ fees as well. For example, your lawyer:
In Wisconsin, workers’ comp fee agreements between a lawyer and client must be in writing. Make sure you understand your lawyer’s fee policies before signing a fee agreement.
Most successful workers’ comp claims require evidence—such as medical records, expert witnesses, and the transcription of deposition testimony. Typically, you are financially responsible for the costs related to your claim (called “legal costs’”). While most lawyers try to keep legal costs low, they can be hundreds or even thousands of dollars, depending on the complexity of your claim.
Thankfully, many lawyers won’t expect you to pay for legal costs until your claim is resolved. Instead, they will advance these costs and deduct them from your award or settlement at the end of your case. (To learn more, see our article discussing deductions from a workers’ comp settlement or award.) Some lawyers are even willing to waive legal costs if you lose your claim.
Most reputable Wisconsin workers’ comp lawyers offer free consultations. At this initial meeting, you should discuss both your case and the lawyer’s fee agreement. If you are uncomfortable with the lawyer for any reason, do not sign the fee agreement. Instead, contact and interview other Wisconsin workers’ comp lawyers until one wins your trust and confidence.
Not every injured worker will need to hire a lawyer. However, if your claim has been denied or your benefits have been reduced, you should consider hiring an experienced Wisconsin workers’ comp lawyer. There typically are very few upfront costs, and it can be difficult to handle a disputed claim on your own (unless your claim is very simple).