Q Can I represent myself in my workers’ comp case instead of hiring an attorney?
If you suffer a workplace injury and must file a workers’ compensation claim, you may expect your employer to pay you what you are owed in workers’ comp benefits—especially if you have never filed a claim before. You may believe that you can handle the settlement of your claim by yourself and save the expense of hiring an attorney. However, this may not be in your best interests and could result in the loss of the workers’ comp benefits you deserve.
When Can You Handle Your Workers’ Compensation Claim on Your Own?
While in most cases you should really retain an experienced workers’ compensation attorney to negotiate your settlement, there are a few situations where you could represent yourself. If all of the following are true in your case, you may be able to go it alone:
- You suffered a very minor injury, such as a twisted ankle or a cut, and fully recovered from your injuries.
- You only took off a little or no time off work.
- Your employer agrees to pay your workers’ compensation benefits.
- You do not have a preexisting injury to the same body part that you injured in your accident.
Even if you decide not to hire an attorney, you should take advantage of the free initial consultation that most workers’ compensation lawyers offer and schedule an appointment to discuss your case. An attorney can give you a general idea of what you should receive in settlement and whether or not you are waiving important rights by representing yourself. When doing so, you want to research attorneys and pick one you would potentially hire if you later decide that you need a lawyer.
When You Should Retain an Attorney for Your Workers’ Comp Claim
When deciding whether to hire a lawyer, you need to keep in mind that most workers’ compensation attorneys in New Jersey charge their fees on a contingency basis. This means that they are paid a percentage of your workers’ compensation settlement as their fee. If you lose your case, you would owe no attorney fees. Here are situations where you should retain an experienced lawyer:
- Claim denied. If your claim is denied or you are not receiving workers’ compensation benefits promptly, you need to hire an attorney. Some legitimate workers’ comp claims are denied by employers’ workers’ compensation insurance companies in hopes that the worker will not appeal the decision. An attorney can help you fight for the benefits you deserve.
- Settlement offer is too low. The insurance company may offer to settle your claim quickly but not for the full amount that you deserve. Unless you have a very minor injury and meet the criteria discussed above, you never want to settle your claim without first obtaining the advice of an attorney with experience in these cases. Once you settle your claim, the settlement is final, and you often cannot go back and ask for additional money if you discover your settlement is unfair.
- Inability to return to work. If your injury is permanent and prevents you from returning to your former job or it results in a permanent disability, you could be entitled to permanent partial disability or permanent total disability payments. Because your claim is worth so much more due to your disability, the insurance company could fight longer and harder to deny or reduce your claim. Hiring an experienced attorney is essential to proving your case and ensuring that you receive what you are owed.
- Social security benefits. If you also receive social security benefits or will do so in the future, you need an attorney to negotiate your settlement so that your workers’ comp benefits are paid to you and not to reimburse your social security payments.
- Retaliation. It is illegal for your employer to retaliate against you by firing or demoting you for filing a workers’ comp claim. Contact an attorney immediately if you believe you are the victim of retaliation.
Are you considering filing a workers’ compensation claim on your own? Take advantage of my offer of a free consultation and call my office today to schedule your appointment. I will be happy to discuss your accident, the workers’ comp benefits you may be entitled to, and how I can assist you in receiving what you deserve.