Hire your workers' compensation attorney based on the quality of representation that you think you will receive and NOT based upon the fees the attorney charges. The good news for you is that no fee can be paid without court approval. The judge in your case will make sure that you are charged a fee that complies with the law.
How fees really work in workers' compensation cases
In a nutshell, an attorney in a Florida workers' compensation case is entitled to a fee any time benefits are obtained through his or her efforts. This includes both medical/wages obtained during the claim and the settlement at the end.
If benefits are obtained as a result of litigation, the employer/carrier
pays the fee. This is literally a win/win situation.
If fees are due from the injured worker, there are two ways of calculating them. Which method is used will typically depend on the amount of time the attorney spends working on your case. This is a result of a recent court decision which was hailed as a way for clients with smaller cases to get the same representation as the catastrophically-injured.
The Basic fee
This fee is routinely approved by any judge in the state.
It is important to understand that these percentages are not added together. Some people make that mistake and think that the fee on benefits obtained over $10,000 is 45%. The fee on each additional dollar obtained goes DOWN as the $5,000 and $10,000 thresholds are crossed. The fee on each dollar obtained over $10,000 is only ten cents.
The Enhanced fee
The court decision mentioned above gave attorneys the freedom to contract with clients irrespective of the percentage limits contained in the statute.
Many workers' compensation attorneys charge 25% of the benefits obtained during the case and 25% of the settlement as the "enhanced" fee.
Some attorneys actually charge MORE. Some attorneys charge 33% of all benefits obtained during the representation and then another 33% of the settlement.
The problem here is that if enough benefits were provided during the case, you could technically be left with nothing. For example, if $150,000 in benefits were obtained during the case and the case settled for $100,000 the fee due would be $83,333.33 (50K on the benefits obtained and $33,333.33 on the settlement.) Although the judge probably would not approve that, it's greedy and we don't do it.
Here's what we do. Our maximum fee is 25% of any settlement and then we cap any fee due on benefits obtained during the case (no matter how much they were) so that the most you will ever pay is 33 1/3% of the settlement amount. In my example above, for $250,000 in total benefits obtained you would only pay the $33,333.33
If we are being completely accurate, the truth is that our maximum fee is actually LESS than many attorneys charge.
Which fee will you pay?
Obviously, the basic fee is better for you and the enhanced fee is usually better for us.
Ultimately the judge will decide. The judge will use the hours expended on the file to determine which fee is used. Some cases require tremendous effort and hundreds of hours, other require very little effort. We have learned that the hours involved do not always correspond with the injuries or the size of the case. Some facts breed controversy and some don't. Some clients and some carriers are more combative than others. Some clients call every day.
Smaller cases almost always involve the enhanced fee because it doesn't take many hours at all to exceed the basic fee.
Large cases, unless they require a massive amount of litigation, almost always involve the basic fee because it is nearly impossible to work enough hours to exceed 25% of a huge settlement.
It's the medium-sized cases that are hard to predict fee-wise. If the case requires a significant amount of time and attention then it becomes likely that it will be an enhanced fee. If it doesn't require much time at all then it will likely be a basic fee.
Most attorneys won't put a fee page on their website. In fact, most attorneys only have a single page about workers' compensation on their entire website. Our whole website is devoted to workers' compensation.
Be smart. Hire the attorney that you are comfortable with and that you think will get the job done.
Meet your attorney face-to-face before hiring him or her. We get calls constantly from people complaining that they called a firm, had an "investigator" come out to their house and pressure them into signing a contract and then six weeks later they had still not met nor even spoken with their attorney on the telephone. Other people hire attorneys from the East Coast and then they do not bother to even show up in person for hearings, depositions or negotiations. It's ridiculous. Don't stand for that level of representation or it is YOU who will pay the price. You only have one case and your future could well be at stake. Make sure your attorney will give your case the attention it deserves.
We feel supremely confident that our combination of local focus, personal service, and aggressive representation is unmatched.