We have a live chat feature on our site and a recent chatter stunned me. She was injured at work and her case was accepted. When she hired a lawyer she was receiving TTD benefits and those benefits never stopped. The lawyer took on the case and started taking 20% of the TTD checks. When the worker asked why, the lawyer said it's because she had to read through hundreds of pages of medical records.
This is grossly illegal. It's flat out theft. It's also unlike any attorney I've ever come across. Even the scummiest ones I see will only take 20% when benefits are denied and then reinstated.
While this is clearly not allowed, the question is when can your attorney take 20% of your TTD check?
To me, the question really is when should they do this. By law, it can technically happen when there is a dispute in your case and your benefits get reinstated. But there are different levels of dispute. Here are some scenarios.
1. You are on TTD benefits for an injured back. You see the doctor once a month and the doctor always faxes an off work slip to the insurance adjuster. This month the adjuster claims she never got the note, so she doesn't issue a check. Your lawyer calls her, finds out the problem and then gets an off work slip from your doctor. They fax it in and benefits are reinstated. Technically there was a dispute, but it was so minor that in our opinion your attorney shouldn't take anything. If they do, they should only do it for the pay that was missing. Some scummy attorneys will try to take it from every check from here on out. That shouldn't happen.
2. Your doctor has you off of work. A previous IME had said your condition is work related. A year goes by and they send you to a new IME who says the injury is not work related. The insurance company uses that report to cut off your benefits. Your lawyer files a 19b trial motion and the insurance adjuster, realizing their position isn't strong, reinstates your pay. This is just slightly more work than the first example. We'd take nothing for this. Some firms would take 20% of the disputed period. Anyone who takes more than that is wrong in my opinion.
3. After a back injury your doctor takes you off of work.You are scheduled for surgery and are receiving TTD benefits. The insurance company does surveillance on you which shows you working on a car in a manner that appears to go beyond what your doctor said you can do. As a result they cut off your benefits. We take a deposition of your doctor and their IME doctor. We then do a pre-trial before the Arbitrator who says if it goes to trial he will likely rule in your favor. Based on this the insurance company agrees to pay back all of the owed TTD and reinstate you going forward. We'd take 20% of the back TTD, but nothing going forward. A lot of firms would take 20% of everything and we think that is inappropriate. The reason we'd take anything at all is because of the work put in by taking the depositions and doing the pre-trial.
4. Same as number three, but the case goes to trial. When the result comes back, you win the case and are awarded six months of back TTD benefits. The result also means that they have to start paying you going forward. We'd take the 20% from the six months, but nothing else. Not all firms would do that, but instead would try to take 1/5 of everything from here on out. We disagree with that still.
In our opinion, if you have a lawyer who is taking money off of future benefits, not past benefits, you should fire them. They will still get paid when the case is settled. Taking more than what they've earned, in our opinion, is close to theft.
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