The work comp system can overwhelm you quickly unless you know how and why the system does what it does. That's especially true in Montana -- the "blue book" or the statutes set forth the law but how that law is interpreted or applied often bears no resemblance to what the words say.
Q: Should I get an attorney? A: Yes.
What you often hear: Well, sure if you want to "give away" 20% of your benefits.
The truth: Attorneys are entitled to take fees only on the benefits they help secure for you.
Q: Can't I just rely on the adjuster - they've been okay so far? A: No
What you often hear: I haven't had any problems and they stay in contact with me.
The truth: It may seem like everything is going well, but many times that is because you are not fully informed about what benefits you may have coming. You don't know you are being shorted. No matter how professional your adjuster may be - or likeable, the adjuster is employed by the insurance company and the adjuster's job is to get you through the system and out as soon as possible at the lowest expense possible. If it's a close call, think about who signs your adjuster's check....it's not you.
Q: When should I get an attorney? A: Sooner is better than later.
What you often hear: Wait and see how it goes and get one if you have a problem.
The truth: Often times, things you don't recognize as problems occur and can seriously impair your ability to get what you should from a claim. You may not recognize or understand why the adjuster is asking a particular question but that may be the question that turns your claim into a "zero." It's easier to drive the truck and keep it out of the ditch, then pull it out once you've put it there.
So look for these things when you consider which attorney to hire:
- Does the attorney have experience? Work comp is a complicated set of laws that frequently changes. Attorneys who "dabble" in it or try to learn on the fly at your expense will fail. Better yet, consider whether the attorney has experience on "both sides of the fence" and understands the insurance company.
- Has the attorney actually been to court? Few work comp claims actually need to go to court but it is important that your attorney has experience going to court and is willing to go that far to help you.
- Can the attorney generate options? Most work comp claims resolve through compromise. Your attorney needs to be able to work with the insurance company pushing when necessary for creative solutions and generating options for you to consider.
- Does the attorney return calls and keep you informed? You are the client and it's your claim -- you need to know what is going on. An attorney should call you back in a reasonable time and being willing to go over the status of your case.
- Does your attorney talk in plain English? Your attorney's job is to take a complicated system and make it easier for you to understand -- even if that means telling you something you don't want to hear or something that doesn't feel fair. The more you understand something, the easier it is to make an informed decision.
- Does your attorney actively provide you information? You should receive copies or have access to all of the communication that is made on your claim including the documents that come and go.
- Does your attorney communicate well with the insurer? Your attorney needs to be able to effectively communicate with the insurer -- sometimes with a soft touch (telephone call), sometimes more aggressively (filing petitions for mediation or hearing).
Take advantage of free consultations by talking with the attorney and trying to get a feel for the attorney's personality and communication skills.
It's important to note that attorney involvement typically results in less overall conflict for the individual and higher settlement.