We cannot guarantee the results in any case – there’s too much uncertainty as to what may happen. That’s especially true if you hire us early in a case. If you don’t get better your case is going to be worth a lot more than if you’re back to your old self in six months. Obviously you would rather be healthy with a small case than the other way around. In many cases, though, we are able to negotiate a settlement which is considerably larger than you would have gotten on your own so that even after having paid a fee you walk away with more money than you would have otherwise.
We aren’t good at everything… if you need to fight a traffic ticket or get a divorce we probably aren’t the right attorneys for you. But we do know the ins-and-outs of workers’ compensation. In this area knowing the law is critical to getting what you are entitled to. Oxner + Permar is proud to have more North Carolina State Bar Board Certified Specialists than any other plaintiff’s firm in the entire state.
Well, with the current state of the law in North Carolina an employer can fire you for just about anything. That’s not reassuring, we know. But it would be self-serving and dishonest to say if you hire us we can guarantee you won’t ever be fired. On the other hand we’ve seen very few clients get fired when they hire us. In fact the number of people who come to us having been fired under dubious circumstances is much greater than the number who get sacked after we are on the case? Why? Well it’s our perception that a lot of employers who want to mistreat an employee are figuring that they will get away with it. The average employee would have no idea if this was legal or illegal or what their options might be. They may be ticked off but likely won’t do much about it because they don’t know what their options are. On the other hand if the employer knows you have an attorney this tactic wouldn’t work. All you’d have to do is call us. Thus we’ve observed what we think is a deterrent effect on employers who might otherwise get shifty.
Ugh. That’s not our style, that’s for sure. Our paralegals are highly trained, we keep them to a moderate caseload so they have time to spend on everyone’s file, and our clients pretty much love them. But they aren’t lawyers. There are a lot of times where you need to speak with a lawyer.
Our lawyers set aside time every day to return calls. If you call at 10:00 am you may not get him or her on the phone. But the staff will set an appointment for the attorney to call you at a specific time later in the day or first thing in the morning. You can go about your business and do not have to sit by the phone wondering if the attorney is going to call you.
That’s how we do it. We cannot tell other lawyers how to run their offices. But we think it is perfectly reasonable for you to be able to call them up and set an appointment for either a face-to-face meeting or a telephone call at a specific time. And you should be able to expect them to keep that appointment.
By law, all fees for workers’ compensation cases must be approved by the Industrial Commission. It is illegal and unethical for a lawyer to take a fee outside of the Commission’s approval. A lawyer can ask for whatever he wants – but the Industrial Commission approves fees of 25%. It is extremely rare for the Industrial Commission to approve a fee request higher than that. We’ve never seen an instance that the Industrial Commission approved a 33% fee request for an attorney going to a hearing.
This brings us to a delicate topic. We know that some attorneys have Fee Agreements that says that their fee is 25% if the case settles at mediation or before a hearing but that the fee will be 33% if the case goes to a hearing. We have never seen the Industrial Commission approve such a request.
Why would an attorney put that into a fee contract? We cannot state what goes through other attorneys’ minds so we cannot answer the question. But consider this situation: an injured worker has a mediation and the defense offers $30,000.00. If you took the settlement your attorney would get $7,500.00 and you would get $22,500.00. Mediations are relatively easy but hearings are a lot of work for an attorney. We actually like hearings because they are a challenge. And our firm goes to hearing a lot more frequently than many of our competitors do. But hearings are clearly a lot of work. If the attorney wants to avoid going to a hearing he can pull out the fee contract and tell you that if he goes to a hearing and gets the same result as at the mediation you will pay a $10,000.00 fee and only get $20,000.00. Thus a Fee Agreement that calls for a higher fee if the case goes to a hearing could easily be used to pressure a client into a lower settlement that allows the attorney to avoid a hearing. What makes us a little uneasy about this is that while the client doesn’t know any different the attorney likely knows that it is extremely unlikely that the higher fee would be approved by the Industrial Commission. As such we question whether it is appropriate to even put it in a Fee Agreement particularly when it could be, or appear to be, misused.
We want to hasten to point out that this is true for worker’s compensation claims only. It is very common in personal injury and medical malpractice claims to have two levels of a fee. And we certainly agree that a hearing is a lot of work. But we’ve seen more instances of this type of Fee Agreement being used to browbeat a client than we’ve ever seen of it being used to help a client.
While the Industrial Commission generally approves a fee of 25% there are a number of circumstances in which we ask for less than that amount.
First thing is to check yourself and make sure you’re more or less ok. Second, make a note of who may have been a witness –just in case you need support later on. Third, tell your supervisor. Tell them out loud but back this with up with something in writing. That could be a formal report or just an email after the fact. Fourth, go the doctor. Be absolutely clear how you got hurt and that this occurred on the job. Fifth, follow up with your employer to make sure this went to their insurance company. You should get an Industrial Commission Form 19. This is the ONLY proof that the insurance company has acknowledged your claim. Sixth, you should file a Form 18. Be very careful about the Form 18. We recommend talking to an attorney before you file. Understand that simple errors like date of accident can come back to haunt you later on. The Form 18 needs to be perfect.