Workers' Compensation Cases and Legal Advice
A workers’ compensation case is a legal proceeding. The decisions you make regarding your workers’ compensation case may impact you for the rest of your life. Workers’ compensation was originally designed to be a simple no-fault benefit system. Many workers’ compensation cases are still handled routinely without problems. However, the law has been changed many times over the years, and each change makes cases more complicated. Issues involving Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, unemployment benefits, and Second Injury Fund claims also complicate many cases. While you are not required by law to have a lawyer, you may need a lawyer. Most employers and insurance companies are required by law to have a lawyer present at all docket settings before the Division of Workers’ Compensation, so in most cases you will have to speak with the workers’ compensation insurance lawyer at one or more times before your case is concluded.
Please keep in mind that neither the Administrative Law Judge assigned to your case nor any employee of the Missouri Division of Workers' Compensation can give you legal advice or act as your lawyer or adviser.
In What Situations Should I Consult a Lawyer?
You have the right to consult with a lawyer, or have a lawyer represent you, at any step in the process. Here are some situations in which a lawyer may be needed:
- The insurance company is denying your case
- You are not getting the medical care you believe you need
- Tests or surgery ordered by the authorized treating physician are denied or canceled
- You are not getting weekly benefit checks while the doctor says you cannot work
- The insurance company won’t talk with you
- The insurance company is claiming a penalty for a safety violation or for use of drugs or alcohol
- You feel intimidated by the process, or you feel you are being treated unfairly
- You are confused about how to proceed
- You have been fired, demoted or harassed at work because of your work injury, or because you are asserting your workers’ compensation rights
- You have applied for, or are receiving social security disability benefits
- You have qualified for Medicare, or you may qualify for Medicare within the next five years
- Mo HealthNet or Medicaid has paid for your medical bills
- You believe you are permanently and totally disabled, that is, you believe that you cannot work at any job
- Your employer did not have workers’ compensation insurance coverage at the time of the injury
- Your medical bills are not being paid, even though you have only gone to medical care providers authorized by your employer or the workers’ compensation insurance company
- If you feel uncomfortable proceeding with your case without consulting a lawyer first
A lawyer is almost always needed, when:
- The case cannot be resolved by settlement and must be resolved by an evidentiary hearing (trial)
- The workers’ compensation insurance company strongly advises you to get a lawyer
- An administrative law judge strongly advises you to get a lawyer
How Do I Find a Good Workers’ Compensation Lawyer?
As you have discovered, workers’ compensation is a complicated and specialized area of law. You want to find a lawyer who regularly practices workers’ compensation law and understands the law thoroughly. It is always best to talk to friends, family members and co-workers who have had workers’ compensation cases and had lawyers who they were pleased with. If you are a member of a labor union, your union should be able to help you find a good attorney. You can also contact:
- Missouri Bar Lawyer Referral Service 573-636-3635
- St. Louis Metropolitan Bar Lawyer Referral Service 314-621-6681
- Springfield Metropolitan Bar Referral Service 417-831-2783
How Can I Afford a Lawyer?
You do not need money to talk to a lawyer about your workers’ compensation case, and you do not need money to hire a lawyer to represent you in your workers’ compensation case. Attorneys who regularly practice workers’ compensation law offer free initial consultations. Attorneys who regularly practice workers’ compensation law will take your case on a “contingency fee” basis, meaning that they will be paid on the basis of a percentage of the money they obtain for you in the case.
What if I Wish to End My Relationship with My Lawyer?
If you do terminate your relationship with your lawyer, your lawyer may file a request for an “attorney’s lien” on your workers’ compensation case. This means that he or she is requesting to be reasonably compensated for the work he or she has done on your behalf, at the conclusion of the case. The request for an attorney’s lien does not necessarily mean that the lawyer will receive everything he or she is asking for. If the issue of your former lawyer’s reasonable compensation cannot be worked out amicably, the administrative law judge can decide how much, if any, of your settlement or award your former lawyer is entitled to.
Usually, if you terminate your relationship with your lawyer, you will hire a different lawyer to finish handling your case. Usually your new lawyer will work out the issue of your former lawyer’s compensation at the earliest possible time.
The Division of Workers’ Compensation cannot get involved in disputes between you and your lawyer. However, if you feel you need assistance in resolving such disputes, you may contact:Fee Dispute Resolution
The Missouri Bar
P.O. Box 119
Jefferson City, MO 65102
Telephone: (573) 635-4128 St. Louis: Fee Dispute Resolution
Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis
720 Olive Street
St. Louis, MO 63101
Telephone: (314) 421-4134 Kansas City: Fee Dispute Resolution
Kansas City Metropolitan Bar Association
1125 Grand Ave.
Kansas City, MO 64106
Telephone: (816) 474-4322