What to Expect at the First Appointment
When injured workers’ call our firm for an appointment, the following information is a preview of the appointment process and what to expect. We want all potential injured worker new clients to feel free to contact us for a no obligation and free of charge first appointment.
Is there a charge?
The first appointment or initial consultation for a new workers’ compensation client is 100% free. This is true whether or not the new client hires us or whether or not we accept the case. Sometimes, but not very often, we will request a deposit to cover certain types of expenses that we know will be incurred. If the new client makes such a deposit the money is placed in a trust account and not mixed with our law firm’s legal account. All trust account funds are accounted for. We return to the client all unused funds.
How long is the first appointment?
The first appointment is normally between thirty minutes and one hour. If the new client needs further legal services and hires us the appointment will take one hour. This is true because more information is needed and paperwork needs to be signed at the time of the first appointment.
What information should the client bring to his/her first appointment?
The new client should be prepared at the first appointment to provide basic facts about the injury. These include the date, time, and location of the work injury injury, a description of the work injury – see my prior blog article at Work Injuries – What to Tell Your Medical Provider – Avoid Mistakes
List of Witnesses & Medical Providers
The new client should provide the names and contact information for any witnesses and for all medical providers who treated the injury. It is helpful to have the medical providers and dates of treatment in chronological order at the time of the first appointment.
The new client should be prepared to discuss his/her complete medical history. This is especially needed if prior to the date of injury the client had medical treatment or problems with the same body parts that are part of the work injury.
Work History & Year Prior Wages
The compensation rates for an Ohio workers’ compensation claim are based upon earnings from all employers (not just the employer on the date of injury) for the fifty-two week immediately prior to the date of injury. For example, if the date of injury is June 15, 2016 the period needed is from June 15, 2015 to June 14, 2016. Therefore, the injured worker should provide the contact information for each year prior employer.
It is also helpful to provide W-2s for the year of the injury and the year prior to the injury. The injured worker should also check his/her calendar so that exact dates of year prior employment with each employer can be provided. Lastly, all periods and dates of unemployment during the fifty-two week period before the date of injury must be reported. The reason for the unemployment (such as termination, lay-off, quitting, illness, etc.) must also be provided. The injured worker should also provide the dates of unemployment compensation payments during the same fifty-two week period.
In many new client appointments, the most difficult and time-consuming task at the first appointment is determining the year prior employment information. The well-prepared client will avoid this.
What documents or forms will the new client be asked to sign at the first appointment?
In nearly every case the attorney must obtain medical records. These records include emergency room records, the injured worker’s medical chart from treating medical providers, and various workers’ compensation medical forms such as the Medco-14 Physician’s Report of Work Ability. Medical providers will not release an injured worker’s medical information without a properly executed release. The types of releases required by medical providers are often different. Therefore, there in not one type of release that covers all providers. Thus, the injured worker must sign several kinds of releases to cover all possibilities.
Release to Obtain Employment and Wage Information
Most employers will not release employment information and earnings information without a written release properly signed by the injured worker. Therefore, the injured worker will be asked to sign an authorization for the release of employment information.
BWC Form R-2 Authorization of Representation
In Ohio this is the official form signed by the injured worker that notifies the BWC and Industrial Commission that the attorney is the injured workers’ authorized representative. A separate R-2 form is needed for each workers’ compensation claim. If the injured worker has more than one claim, we will request that the injured worker sign a separate form R-2 for each claim. The attorney normally files the R-2 with the BWC and Industrial Commission immediately upon being hired by the injured worker. This form can be viewed at https://www.bwc.ohio.gov/bwccommon/forms/BWCForms/nlbwc/IWForms.asp
BWC Form C-230 Authorization to Receive Workers’ Compensation Check
Our attorney fees are all contingent fees that are charged on lump sum payments. A contingent fee is a fee that is paid only if the injured worker receives a lump sum payment. In such cases the C-230 form properly signed by the injured worker authorizes the BWC to send the award check (made payable to the injured worker) directly to the attorney. This process protects the injured worker and the attorney. The C-230 form is valid for eighteen months from the date it is signed. This form can be viewed at https://www.bwc.ohio.gov/bwccommon/forms/BWCForms/nlbwc/IWForms.asp
Consent to use Social Security Number
The attorney is not permitted to use an injured workers’ social security number to research information about the claim without the injured worker’s consent. Therefore, the attorney will have the injured worker sign a simple form providing such consent.
File Retention Policy
When we complete work on a case and close the file, we offer the file to the injured worker rather than storing it. If the injured worker takes the file, we will ask the injured worker to sign a receipt. In many cases the injured worker will not take the file. Therefore, at the time that we are hired, we have the injured worker sign a form (file retention policy) that notifies the injured worker that if he/she does not take his/her file when we close the case, our firm will store the file for five years from that date and then destroy it. This gives our firm permission to destroy old files.
While this procedure is still needed, most Ohio workers’ compensation claim information can be viewed on the BWC website with a proper username and password. Therefore, the actual paper file is no longer as important and often is not needed to obtain claim information.
Workers’ Compensation Contingent Fee Agreement
The rules of the Ohio BWC and Ohio Industrial Commission forbid charging an attorney fee unless there is a written fee agreement signed by the injured worker and by the attorney. Therefore, all attorneys who represent injured workers for a fee must have a fee agreement signed by the client at the first appointment if the attorney takes the case. Most attorneys who represent Ohio injured workers charge a contingent fee (normally one-third) on lump sum payments. This fee will increase (normally to forty percent) if the case is appealed into the common pleas court system.
Our fee agreement will be explained to the injured worker and all questions fully answered prior to signing. We will provide a copy of the signed fee agreement to the injured worker. Our fee agreement complies fully with all rules of ethics and professional responsibility.
Most Importantly . . .
Our potential new injured worker clients are never pressured to retain our firm. Our job at the first appointment is to meet the injured worker, obtain sufficient information to evaluate the case, and to educate the injured worker regarding our legal services and the benefits of legal representation. All procedures, fees, expenses, time-frames, and the issues presented by the claim will be explained. Our goal is to help our clients and potential clients by providing excellent advice and representation.
We never want a client to feel pressure or to have anything but positive feelings about us after his/her first appointment regardless of whether we enter into a formal attorney-client relationship.