The Pennsylvania Workers Compensation system is complex. While it is possible to pursue a claim without a lawyer, it is not recommended.
The Bureau of Workers' Compensation has made it more difficult, in recent years, for a worker to pursue his or her own claim without a lawyer. The Bureau also warns that "you should be aware that WC litigation is complex, and your employer or your employer's insurance carrier will be represented by an experienced attorney." Except in cases where it is impossible to secure legal help, an injured worker is far better advised to get support and guidance from an experienced attorney, skilled in this complex area of practice. Ideally, the attorney you select should be a Certified Specialist in Pennsylvania Workers' Compensation. If you do elect to proceed on your own, the starting point should be a review of the Bureau's relevant wage pages, found by clicking here: PA Workers' Compensation and the Injured Worker
(Link will open in a new window).
Even if you are intent upon going up against the employer and its insurance company, and their lawyer, on your own, we would encourage you to call us first, for a free telephone consultation.
Many injured workers convince themselves to "wait and see" -- hoping or expecting their employer and its insurance carrier will treat them fairly and comply fully with the law after a work injury. Employers and insurance adjusters may even go out of their way to appear as friendly and as cooperative, so long as they are contolling the evidence important to the claim. They will actively discourage injured workers from even speaking with an experienced lawyer. This is particularly true within the first ninety days after a serious injury, where the Act gives the employer and insurance company several advantages to "stack the deck" against an unwary injured worker. Specifically, while maintaining maximum control over where you can seek medical treatment, they will, at the same time, put pressure on the involved medical providers to understate the work injury, to focus on only one part of a complex injury, and to press you back to at least "light duty" even if this interferes with your ability to recover from your injury. These kinds of moves by the insurer or employer make it much harder for you to pursue your right to any long-term benefits or to obtain any significant lump sum settlement, unless you know when and how to make the right counter-moves to protect your rights and advance your claim. This can only happen if you have proper advice and guidance early in the claim process. Early contact with a savvy attorney can make it far more likely you will get the benefits you deserve. If that attorney is one of the good guys, who puts his client's needs first, it also makes it far more likely you can get those benefits WITHOUT A FIGHT.
In a case where a fight in court becomes necessary, knowing what petitions to file, what to allege, what burden of proof must be met, and how to secure supporting evidence and how to present that evidence effectively and in a manner the judge can formally accept and consider -- all of these are second-nature to an experienced workers' compensation attorney, but entirely foreign to the injured worker. None of this is to mention the nuances involved in presenting evidence in a persuasive and compelling manner to be sure you get the benefits you need and deserve in a disputed case.
In most cases, testimony
is necessary from not only you (the claimant) and from employer witnesses (who may testify to deny an injury happened at work, to downplay its effects, to contest factual elements of legal issues such as whether proper notice was given within the meaning of the Act, or to claim that suitable light duty was or is available even when it is work you cannot do, etc.), but also from one or more medical expert witnesses supporting your right to benefits, as well as at least one medical witness for the insurance company. This last will be an expert medical witness supporting the insurer's positions attempting to block, limit or end your right to benefits. Formal trial depositions must be scheduled in accordance with the rules, with proper notices served in manner consistent with formal rules. Your treating or testifying doctor must respond to trial deposition questions in a manner that meets a legal and evidenciary standard, such as offering opinions on specific relevant points "to a reasonable degree of medical certainty." He or she must also be well prepared
to meet the evidence or arguments produced by the insurance carrier's attorney on cross examination.
Deposition fees for a treating doctor usually fall within the range of $2,000 to $4,500 per medical witness deposition as of 2016 and must be pre-paid. These costs are advanced by our office when we represent an injured worker, and we are only paid back -- by the insurance company -- when we win or if the case is settled for a lump sum. Court reporters must be set to attend, with their charges paid as well, to create the transcript necessary for the Judge's later review. Stipulations must be made as to the proceedings before at the start of each trial deposition, and legal objections must be made on the record during trial deposition testimony and later preserved for the judge's rulings in accordance with the Act and the Special Rules of Practice applicable to proceedings in workers' compensation courts.
All of this too much even for many experienced litigation attorneys, if they are not specially trained in the practice of Pennsylvania Workers Compensation Law. The litigation process is overwhelming for even the most energetic and sophisticated claimant. This is even before we reach the question of exactly what questions must be included in the record, and what statements, opinions or other evidence must be obtained in an expert witness deposition to give the injured a worker a chance to meet the applicable legal burden of proof.
Even very experienced attorneys, well skilled in other kinds of litigation practice, often struggle with Workers Compensation practice to such an extent that they refer these cases to our firm, or to other seasoned workers' compensation specialists, devoted to this highly specialized area of law.
That said, there are rare exceptions. In some cases, the insurance company's lawyer may agree to "proceed on reports" rather than by depositions, if both parties agree and it will be a short term claim. Even then, an insurance defense attorney will have a strong advantage, as they will be able to direct their medical expert to produce a report directly on point with the factual and legal issues of the claim, and able to advance arguments to the judge consistent with prevailing legal precedents.
In other cases, particularly those involving only a dispute over the injured workers' access to medical treatment (with no wage loss), it may be difficult for the injured worker to get help from a lawyer on a contingency fee arrangement. The amounts at issue may not justify substantial attorney involvement. Few attorneys want to invest thousands in costs and thousands more in attorney time for a fight where the only issue may be payment of medical expenses valued at less than the cost of the fight.
In such cases, an injured worker who has never retained an attorney has the option of obtaining from the Bureau of Workers' Compensation the necessary documents to file the appropriate petitions to pursue their rights. Since the period of disability in dispute may then be limited, proceeding on reports may then be an option. A claimant representing himself or herself in such a limited dispute would do well to look to the Workers' Compensation Judge for maximum guidance, or to resources available from the Bureau at the link we provided above, particularly on procedural questions.
For virtually any other scenario, it makes far more sense for the injured worker to have an attorney in their corner, as early in the claim as possible. Eventually, even with an acknowledged claim, there will be a dispute where the injured worker will truly need a lawyer to have any chance of effectively pursuing or protecting their rights.
When it comes time for the insurer's expert witness to testify in a litigated claim, this is usually a very skilled medical advocate. Many IME doctors, for example, have testified in literally hundreds of cases. They have been coached by countless insurance company attorneys in "the best way" to respond to every question typically raised on cross examination. They may make outrageous untruths sound perfectly reasonable and entirely convincing, if not properly confronted by cross examination from an equally seasoned claimant's attorney. Only a skilled and aggressive workers compensation lawyer
is likely to land any knockout blows on cross examination. At that point, you know
you want us on your side.
But there is truly no benefit in a workers' compensation claim for you to wait to get a lawyer, so long as the lawyer you choose is one who is conscientious and truly puts the interests of his clients first. Our own philosophy at The Law Offices of Timothy Kennedy is that it is far better to have an attorney's support and advice in your claim as early as possible. We can guide your actions, and your responses to moves made by your employer or its insurer, with strong and specific advice to help you advance and protect your claim. The sooner you start talking to us, the stronger your claim will be when the time comes for a fight -- whether that fight is to preserve benefits an insurer is trying to take away, to get you on benefits in the first place, to expand the description of your injury for greater access to medical treatment or to protect you from a loss of benefits. Our early involvement can also strongly influence your right to the largest possible lump sum settlement for the long-term effects of your work injury on your earning capacity.
Call us today at 484-453-8144
or use the "contact
" button on this site to start communicating with attorney Tim Kennedy
, a savvy and experienced workers compensation law specialist who will put your rights and intersests first.