Illinois workers’ compensation attorneys charge on a contingency basis, meaning that they only recover a fee if they recover money for you. If they do not get anything for you, then their fee is zero. In other words you should never worry about whether or not you can afford a lawyer.
Contingency fees are a percentage of what you get at settlement or trial. In workers’ compensation, that percentage is typically 20%. This amount is set by law in Illinois. There are a few situations where you will pay less than 20%, and some situations where you’ll pay nothing, even if your attorney helps you get benefits.
For example, you should not be asked to pay a fee when your attorney simply helps you obtain routine, undisputed benefits. If you get your medical expenses paid, all of that money should go toward your medical bills. Illinois law actually says a workers’ comp attorney can’t charge you for this. The same goes for TTD benefits – temporary total disability. These are the payments you can receive for lost wages if you are unable to work. For routine benefits like these, unless your attorney has to fight for them (you were refused benefits or the amount is disputed or past payments are overdue), you should not be charged a percentage, or anything for that matter.
So, if you are injured at work and file a claim in Illinois, and you hire an attorney, and they help you file the correct paperwork and advise you on all available benefits and review your benefits to make sure you’re getting everything, it shouldn’t cost you anything.
On the other hand, if the insurance company disputes your medical treatment, your employer denies your claim, or there is an unreasonable delay in getting TTD payments, and your attorney goes to trial and is able to recover what you are owed, their fee will be percentage (20%) of the amount they are able to recover for you. The idea is that when benefits are disputed, an attorney has to do a significant amount of work in order to be successful, including going to trial in some cases. That said, most of the attorneys we recommend don’t take a penny from medical benefits even after a trial. As with any contingency fee arrangement, if you lose your case, you don’t have to pay your attorney anything.
For big cases (serious and/or permanent injuries), an attorneys fees may be limited to less than 20% of what you settle for or get at trial. The fee cap on these is 20% of seven year’s worth of TTD payments. An employee’s TTD rate is 2/3 of their average weekly wage. If your average weekly wage is $1,500, then your TTD rate is $1,000, and one year of TTD payments would be $52,000 which is $364,000 over seven years. Your attorney’s fee could not exceed 20% of this, or about $73,000. So, even if your attorney gets you a settlement of $500,000, their fee would be limited to $73,000.
In some specific serious and undisputed cases (such as death, loss of a limb, or complete vision loss in an eye) the attorney’s fee is capped at $100. “Undisputed” means that the insurance company and injured worker agree on everything, including the type of injury, the amount owed, and the time when payment is due. There is a very specific list of injuries that fall into this category.
Sometimes, workers do not hire an attorney at the time of their injury, but regret that decision at settlement time. We often hear from workers wondering whether the insurance company’s settlement offer is fair. Usually, it’s not. If you decide to hire an attorney at this point because you want to increase your settlement, the attorney’s fee is limited to a percentage of the amount they are able to increase your settlement over and above the initial offer. Technically, they can charge 50% of the increase, although many charge only 20%. It can be difficult to find an attorney if you have already received a settlement offer, because it means a lot of work for a smaller fee. If your attorney is unable to increase your settlement, then you owe them nothing.
While we understand that some injured workers don’t want to pay anything to a lawyer, the reality is that not only do most attorneys earn their money, but in almost every case you will end up with more money with a lawyer than without. In many offers, the insurance company will give you the lowest amount they can get approved by a Judge and then lop off 20% because no attorney is on the case.
If you switch attorneys during your case, your fee will not increase. The 20% limit applies to the total fees, even if it involves more than one lawyer. If you decide to change attorneys, the new and old attorneys will work it out among themselves. It won’t cost you a penny more.
There are some workers’ compensation attorneys out there who try to collect fees where they are not due or where the law actually says they are not allowed. Unfortunately, this puts responsibility on you, the injured worker, to know the law, which can be confusing.
If you need help understanding attorney fees for your workers’ compensation case, or if you would like a referral to an experienced and honest work injury attorney in Illinois, please contact us. We will always talk to you for free, and it’s completely confidential. If we do recommend a law firm for you, it will be someone independent of our office whom we have great faith in.