If you’re a work injury claimant, you may need to hire a workers compensation attorney. In Washington State, we sometimes use the term L&I attorney instead. If you’re concerned about L&I attorney fees – you’re not alone. The cost of hiring an L&I attorney can be stressful for workers. In fact, some people wait too long to reach out to a workers compensation attorney. Most workers worry about the cost. I wish I could say that attorney fees aren’t a concern. Unfortunately, that isn’t true. The law allows workman’s comp attorneys to receive reasonable attorney fees for their services. However, the law also sets the limits for what they can charge.
Managing your L&I attorney fees and cost
In Washington State, the Industrial Insurance Act has rules regarding fees. And, these rules make it easier for workers to manage their L&I attorney fees. Specifically, these rules include:
1) Mandatory contingent fees
2) Fixed fee percentages for structured settlements (CRSSA)
3) L&I attorney fee and cost reimbursements for Superior Court appeals.
Below, let’s go over the 3 rules and how they affect your L&I claim benefits.
Contingent fee as one form of L&I attorney fees
Outside the workers’ compensation setting, most attorneys charge a retainer. The retainer is an upfront fee. Clients pay the retainer before receiving legal services. After that, clients typically pay an hourly rate. In contrast, a workers compensation attorney doesn’t charge a retainer. Similarly, an L&I attorney fee isn’t hourly. In fact, under RCW 51.52.120, the law allows a workers compensation attorney to charge a reasonable “contingent fee”. This fee is up to 30% of the monetary benefits that an L&I attorney gets for his or her client. So, a workers compensation attorney doesn’t collect fees unless the worker receives payments from L&I. Namely, these L&I monetary benefit payments include:
a) Time-loss compensation benefits
b) Loss of earning power benefits
c) Permanent partial disability (L&I PPD) awards
d) Permanent total disability or L&I pension benefits.
Again, the 30% contingent fee comes out of these benefits. That is, after the L&I attorney helped their client secure them. Obviously, sharing a percentage of these benefits can cause significant stress. However, contingent fees are best in a worker compensation claim. Why? Because they ensure that the worker and the L&I attorney both have “skin in the game”. The L&I attorney doesn’t receive payments until the worker also receives them. Most importantly, contingent L&I attorney fees ensure that workers have early access to legal representation.
L&I claim resolution settlement agreements & fixed fee
Claim Resolution Settlement Agreement (CRSA) is a new way of resolving L&I claims. It’s the “new version” of CRSSA. Here, instead of continuing with the L&I claim, the worker and L&I decide on a monetary settlement. In short, the worker gives up the claim. In exchange, L&I pays the worker to walk away. So, let’s say an L&I attorney secures a CRSA. Then, under RCW 51.52.120(3), the L&I attorney fee for securing the CRSA is 15%.
Superior court appeals
Workers can appeal L&I decisions. Appeals take place at the Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals (i.e., the Board). First, let’s go over the steps of the Board appeal process. If the matter goes to a full hearing, the Board judge will issue a Proposed Decision & Order. Then, any party that disagrees with the decision can file a Petition for Review. Next, the Board will either deny or grant the petition. Finally, the Board will issue a Decision and Order.
Either party can disagree with any of these Board rulings. Therefore, either party can file an appeal to Superior Court for a Bench trial or Jury trial. In a Superior Court appeal, the law presumes the Board’s decision is correct. Hence, the appealing party has the burden of proof. Now, let’s discuss how this affects your L&I attorney fees.
L&I attorneys fee and cost reimbursement in successful Superior Court appeal
If successful, under RCW 51.52.130, the Superior Court may award L&I attorney fees and costs. To clarify, this means L&I or the self-insured employer will reimburse the worker for their workers compensation attorney fees. Put another way, the law will award attorney fees if Superior Court does 2 things. First, if Superior Court reverses or modifies the Board decision. And second, when Superior Court grants more relief to a work injury claimant.
Furthermore, trial witnesses cost money. Especially when it comes to medical testimony. The Court may waive these witness fees upon a successful outcome. Therefore, winning a Superior Court appeal can have many benefits. And that’s on top of securing your L&I benefits. However, remember, reimbursements only apply in successful Superior Court appeals. In contrast, fee and cost waivers aren’t available when working with L&I or the Board. It’s only available when an L&I attorney litigates your claim in Superior Court.
Takeaways and final remarks
In summary, work injury claimants may need to hire an L&I attorney, resulting in fees. Contingent attorney fees will be a percentage of the monetary L&I benefits. For percentages, L&I attorney fee will always be 30% or less. In CRSA, the law limits the fee percentage to 15%. Typically, L&I and self-insured employers aren’t responsible for paying your L&I attorney fees. However, a worker may make a successful appeal to Superior Court. There, the Superior Court may order L&I or the self-insured employer to pay attorney fees and costs.