By Mark Weissburg, Partner at Horwitz Horwitz & Associates
One of the first things new client’s tell me when I meet them is, “I’m not the type of person to hire an attorney.” Actually, someone with a legal case is precisely the type of person who should and does hire an attorney. If you need brain surgery, see a brain surgeon. If you need a rocket built, consult your local neighborhood rocket scientist.
No, Workers’ Compensation law is not brain surgery, nor is it rocket science. But there are times when the expertise of someone who deals with this area of law day after day is going to save you a lot of grief. My hope is that many people can handle most of their claims quite competently with nothing more than my book, How to Win a Worker's Compensation Claim in Illinois, and a healthy dose of caution . But there will come a time in virtually every case when you will benefit from the advice of an experienced lawyer.
Why hire an attorney? Keep the train on the tracks with leverage
Having an attorney is the most certain way of keeping a case on the tracks. A good attorney will spot red flags and potential problems, and deal with them before they blossom into full-scale disasters. An attorney will make sure the adjuster has everything needed to keep the money flowing, including off work slips, updated records, Functional Capacity Exam results, and causation opinions. A good attorney will also keep the end game in mind, making sure your case is managed in a way that protects the value of the final settlement.
How does an attorney help keep an accepted claim from getting off track? With leverage. If you are not represented, you have no leverage, and the adjuster has total leverage. They decided when to send money, and how much to send. They decide what treatment they will authorize, and when. All you can do is call and leave messages on the adjuster’s voice mail. Then wait for a call back.
But an attorney can turn that situation around. Why? Because an attorney can motion up the case for trial. Once the case is motioned up for trial, the adjuster has to hand the claim over to their lawyer. Some insurance companies have in house attorneys, but many use outside firms, in which case they are paying by the hour. You don’t pay by the hour. Your attorney gets a contingency fee, which is generally 20% of the settlement. That fee doesn’t change whether your attorney goes to court once or a hundred times. Do you see how this changes things? The adjuster would rather not incur the expense of going to court all the time, but you don’t care. Suddenly, it becomes more expensive for the adjuster to do the wrong thing than the right thing. That’s the power of leverage, and that’s the power of having a skilled attorney in your corner.