How do I find a lawyer in Erie that charges no fee unless they settle my case?
When watching TV, you’ll see that many lawyers advertise No recovery, No Fee payment structures, wherein the lawyer won’t charge a fee for your personal injury case unless he or she gets you money by way of a lump-sum settlement or a verdict. During our free consultations, this is often the first question we get when meeting with a new client. Like all personal injury law firms in Erie, PA, we do not charge a fee unless we obtain a recovery for our client.
What is a contingent fee?
This sort of “no recovery no fee” arrangement is referred to as a “contingent fee,” and it is the standard practice for nearly all attorneys in Erie, PA that handle car accidents and other personal injury claims. When you see some of the heavy-advertisers focus on this structure in their commercials, don’t be fooled into thinking they’re the only ones that don’t charge hourly fees and don’t charge big retainers; they’re simply the only ones that shout about it on television. Knowing that this is standard practice for nearly all lawyers, you’re free to do your research and pick the best attorney for you without having to worry about draining your savings account.
Are contingent fees fair? Should I pay hourly instead?
Contingent no-recovery-no-fee arrangements give great power to personal injury victims who are looking for a lawyer: instead of being stuck with the cheapest option out there and operating on a shoestring budget, he or she can hire the best attorney in Erie to fight the insurance company on his or her behalf. Insurance companies hate paying out a fair value for claims and hire good lawyers to help minimize their exposure: our contingent-fee arrangements allow you to even the playing field and fight for fair compensation.
Who pays for the expenses in a lawsuit?
In addition to charging no fee unless we obtain a recovery, our firm also fronts all litigation expenses: what this means is that you don’t have to worry about coming up with thousands of dollars for expert reports, medical depositions, records, expert witnesses, et cetera. Because insurance companies spare no expense when it comes to building their case, we front the money for whatever it takes to prove the significance and extent of your injuries. Our firm doesn’t let insurance companies win by simply outspending us. We ensure things are fair.
What should I do?
If you have been injured in a car accident or have a workers’ compensation claim, don’t think that you can’t afford a good lawyer. Give our Erie, PA Lawyers a call and we’ll arrange a free consultation. If, after meeting us, you want to move forward—feel safe knowing that we don’t charge a fee unless there’s a recovery.
Many injured workers in Pennsylvania are worried that their boss will either fire them or retaliate against them for filing a workers’ compensation claim after a work injury. Although not unheard of, such an event is illegal and should not dissuade you from filing a workers’ compensation claim after getting hurt at work.
It is illegal for an employer to fire you for filing a workers’ compensation claim.
Employers propagate this notion that injured workers should “tough it out” after an injury and “keep quiet” in order to keep their insurance premiums down. This is why many workplaces have environments where employees appear to look down on their injured coworkers. This sort of environment is inappropriate and is designed to take advantage of you.
Unfortunately for injured workers, failing to report injuries or failing to make workers’ compensation claims can potentially prevent them from being compensated for their missed work or having their medical bills paid. If you fail to take appropriate steps after an injury, you could find yourself without a job, without health insurance, and with a disabling injury that prevents you from returning to work. Although it might seem frightening, you cannot let that happen. Fortunately, you don’t have to be alone in this fight. With our low percentage-based fees, anybody can afford to have a lawyer on their side.
Although it might seem counter-intuitive, after an injured worker hires a workers’ compensation lawyer, employers are typically on their best behavior. And if they aren’t, you at least have a lawyer on your side to help protect your rights.
What are your rights under Pennsylvania workers’ compensation law?
After getting hurt at work in Pennsylvania, you’re entitled to have your injury-related medical bills paid and you’re entitled to be compensated while you’re unable to work because of your injury. While it seems simple, it often isn’t. Don’t let your boss or the insurance company tell you that you aren’t entitled to workers’ compensation or pressure you into not filing. If your injury ends up more serious than you expect sometime down the road, and now you’re missing work and need a surgery you can’t afford, you very well could find yourself out of luck with nobody to help.
I want to know more.
If you have questions about the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation system or your case, please do not hesitate to give me a call. I don’t charge for consultations and, if you need to hire me, we only work on a contingent, recovery-based fee. Anybody can afford our law firm.
How do I file a Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Claim?
As workers’ compensation lawyers, injured workers frequently ask us “how do I file a workers’ compensation claim?” Normally, the reason they’re asking is because either their employer failed to report the injury to their insurance company or because the insurance company denied their claim, asserting that the injury wasn’t “work related.” If this happened to you, you need a lawyer.
You need a lawyer to help file your workers’ compensation claim.
It’s important to realize that “making a workers’ compensation claim” isn’t as simple as, for example, reporting a fallen branch on your roof to your homeowner’s insurance carrier. Making a workers’ compensation claim is more similar to litigating a personal injury claim in real court, as it involves multiple hearings, cross-examination of witnesses, and medical depositions. This is neither cheap nor simple and it is not something you should try to do without an experienced lawyer.
When I get involved in a situation where a claim needs to be filed, I file what’s called a “Claim Petition” with the Pennsylvania Bureau of Workers’ Compensation. This is just the beginning of the process. Soon thereafter, I am required to pay for and submit expert narrative reports, medical records, and conduct depositions of the treating doctors. This is both time consuming and expensive. It is not unusual to spend $4,000.00 litigating a workers’ compensation claim petition from start to finish.
We can help file your workers’ compensation claim.
When our office represents an injured worker, we work on a contingent basis and we pay all litigation expenses. We know that, when you’re out of work, you can’t afford to pay a lawyer’s retainer or be expected to spend $3,000.00 on a medical deposition. Importantly, in workers’ compensation claims, we never charge these expenses to our clients—we either get paid back by the employer or we don’t get paid back at all. We take the risk so you don’t have to.
If you’re wondering how to file a workers’ compensation claim in Erie, PA, Bradford, Smethport, or in Northwestern Pennsylvania, we encourage you to contact our office for a free consultation. If we can’t help you, we can at least point you in the right direction.
If I live in Pennsylvania, but I was hurt in another state, can I still file a workers’ compensation claim in Pennsylvania?
We often get asked by Pennsylvania residents—hurt in other states—if they can file their workers’ compensation claim in Pennsylvania. The answer to this question is “maybe.” Pennsylvania (and most states) provide that you may file a claim if you were hurt while working here or if you were hired here. So, for example, if you live in Pennsylvania, but were hired by a factory in Ohio and commute there every day, the answer is that your claim must be filed in Ohio.
However, if you were hired by a construction company and are injured while working on a project in New York, you can (and probably should) file your claim in Pennsylvania. Generally speaking, Pennsylvania benefits are better than both those of Ohio and New York. Of course, individual circumstances may vary.
Thus, the general rule is that if you were hired in Pennsylvania, and were injured in another state, it is necessary to examine the benefits in that state to determine if you should file in Pennsylvania or where the injury occurred. Please note also that some employers, notably trucking companies, often have employees sign agreements to file compensation claims in a certain state, often Indiana, which has laws that are very unfavorable to injured workers.
While these agreements are generally valid, we are happy to review your case to determine if there is some reason that it may not be enforceable. Any time there is a difference between the state of hire and the state where the injury occurred, it makes sense to seek legal advice to determine how best to proceed. At Bernard Stuczynski & Barnett, we are happy to review your injury claim with no cost or obligation. Give one of our experienced workers’ compensation attorneys a call at 814-452-6232 for a free sit-down consultation!
Can I sue my employer if I was hurt at work?
If you have been injured at work in Pennsylvania, you are normally unable to bring a personal injury lawsuit against your employer—even in cases where the employer was negligent and caused you to suffer an injury. Instead, the only possible recovery for a work injury is through the workers’ compensation system. Why is this case? To understand why, it is best to understand the history of worker’s compensation and how the system was created.
A brief history of Workers’ Compensation
Prior to the introduction of workers’ compensation statutes, any worker who was injured on the job had to prove in court that the employer’s negligence was responsible for the injury in order to receive compensation. This was often a long and costly process for any worker to undergo. And, there were many defenses that employers could use to avoid liability for injuries including contributory negligence which prevented recovery if the employee was even slightly at fault for the accident, the fellow-servant doctrine which could allow employers to avoid liability if another employee was the cause of the injury, and the assumption of the risk doctrine which prevented recovery if the employee was aware of and assumed the risks and dangers of the workplace. Due in large part to these defenses, many injured workers recovered no compensation in the event that they were hurt while at work.
But, despite the low odds of recovery, employers also faced their own risks. The system of proving employer negligence often led to court costs and judgments that employers could not predict and they faced rising workplace liability insurance premiums. Thus, the system provided significant incentives for reform from the perspective of both the worker and the employer. These reforms began first in Europe, starting in Germany in 1884. These workers’ compensation laws soon spread quickly to the United States, with Wisconsin passing the first law in 1911. Soon, the other states began to follow and each began to pass their own individual workers’ compensation laws. Pennsylvania passed its first Workers Compensation Act in 1915. By 1921, all but six states had replaced the old system of requiring a worker to sue to recover for an injury with a modern workers’ compensation system.
Workers’ compensation is often described as a “grand bargain” between workers and the employer. Under workers’ compensation, workers have relinquished the right to sue employers for any injuries that may be suffered in exchange for no-fault occupational injury insurance from the employer. Unfortunately, Pennsylvania’s workers’ compensation is a complex and difficult system to navigate; if you have been injured, it is best to contact an attorney who understands workers’ compensation in order to ensure that you are properly compensated for your injury and that your rights are protected.
You are entitled to compensation for aggravations to your pre-existing conditions
Pre-existing conditions are the most common excuses given for insurance claim denials. Whenever you make a claim for injuries after an auto accident, a slip-and-fall, or a workers’ compensation injury, the first thing an adjuster will do is request an authorization to get your medical records. What the adjuster doesn’t tell you is that he or she will use this authorization to obtain years of family doctor records to go on a “fishing expedition” for pre-existing conditions. This is just one reason that you should never sign anything without talking to a lawyer first—the insurance company isn’t entitled to all of your records! Even though the new injury made your pre-existing condition worse, the insurance company will then deny your claim as pre-existing.
Pre-Existing Conditions are Not a Valid Reason to Deny Your Insurance Claim
In Pennsylvania, in both personal injury cases and workers’ compensation cases, the insurance company is liable for aggravations to your pre-existing conditions! Don’t let them tell you otherwise. Regardless of any old injuries, if your injury was made worse—you’re entitled to compensation for the worsening.
Can I win my case if I have a pre-existing bad back?
Don’t be fooled: most people injured in car accidents or hurt at work have pre-existing conditions. The fact of the matter is that some people are more susceptible to certain types of injuries—particularly back injuries. It might be because of genetics or it might be because you work a heavy duty job that takes a toll on your back. Fortunately, Pennsylvania Courts have long recognized the “eggshell skull” doctrine, which allows compensation for injuries regardless of how predisposed a person might have been. After all, if not for this injury, your problem wouldn’t be so bad or wouldn’t have occurred at all.
What should I do if I have a pre-existing condition and was hurt in an accident?
Although Pennsylvania law allows compensation for aggravations of pre-existing conditions, the insurance company will still use it as a defense. That’s why it’s so important to hire a lawyer as early as possible—before the insurance company gets all the ammunition they need to defend against your case. Our firm has successfully represented a number of individuals whose claims were denied because of their pre-existing conditions. Call our Erie, PA lawyers today for a free consultation and case review and we’ll let you know if we can help.
Transferring a Workers’ Compensation Case to Pennsylvania can Increase your Wage Benefits
Even if you don’t live in Pennsylvania, you can probably still file a Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation claim under a number of different circumstances. “Jurisdiction” is the legal term which simply means which court or state has the authority to decide a claim. Pennsylvania law gives workers’ compensation judges jurisdiction over workers that were injured in Pennsylvania or hired in Pennsylvania.
Transferring your Ohio or New York Workers’ Compensation case to Pennsylvania
Being located in Northwestern Pennsylvania, we often represent workers’ compensation clients who live in Ohio or New York and were injured while working in Pennsylvania. Generally speaking, Pennsylvania benefits are better for an injured worker than either of these two states. So if you are hurt in Pennsylvania, you should make sure that your claim is filed here.
We have had a few cases over the years, particularly for New York residents, where the insurance company was paying the client under New York law. In this situation, we are generally able to improve upon the client’s benefits by transferring the claim to Pennsylvania.
Transferring your Indiana Workers’ Compensation Case to Pennsylvania for Injured Truckers
We also see many cases of injured truck drivers or construction workers who may live hundreds of thousands of miles away but are injured in Pennsylvania. In most cases, it makes sense to file the claim in Pennsylvania. Some workers, particularly truck drivers, may have signed an agreement providing that workers’ compensation claims must be filed in a certain state. Often this state is Indiana, which has very unfavorable compensation laws—at least for the employee. Generally, these agreements are enforceable, but each case is different and needs to be reviewed individually.
As mentioned, Pennsylvania has jurisdiction either when a worker is injured or is hired in Pennsylvania. Most states have similar laws. In some instances, a worker who was hired out of state and is working in Pennsylvania may be able to obtain better benefits by filing the claim in their home state. For example, Pennsylvania compensation law often denies benefits to “seasonal workers.” (Please note that this is a complicated topic in and of itself. By way of simple example, a “peach picker” is likely a seasonal employee, a dishwasher hired for the season is not.) In one memorable case, we represented a seasonal worker who was not entitled to benefits. Since she was hired in Michigan and transported to Pennsylvania to work, she was able to file for benefits in Michigan. The Pennsylvania employer, thinking nothing of it, ignored the Michigan paperwork. To his surprise, he was later confronted with a judgment which we transferred to Pennsylvania, forcing the Pennsylvania employer to pay the claim.
The important takeaway is that if you are injured in Pennsylvania, we offer a free review of your case to determine if you can file your claim here and if that is to your benefit. At Bernard Stuczynski & Barnett, we are always happy to discuss your claim without cost or obligation.
Do I need a lawyer if the insurance company is offering me a settlement?
Let me answer that question with a question: Would you perform surgery on yourself? Settlement of a legal claim is a serious matter. It usually pays to have help from an expert; a review of your case by our firm is free.
Insurance companies usually want to settle quickly. The reason for this is they know that, in some cases, injuries become more serious over time. There are many examples of this. One known medical phenomenon is the masking of pain in one area of your body due to an injury in another. For example, you may have hurt both your neck and a knee in an automobile collision. The knee pain might be so severe that you don’t realize that you also hurt your neck until the knee pain subsides weeks, or even months, following the injury. We have had several cases of minor head trauma which, quite some time following the injury, turned out to have aggravated an aneurysm.
If you settle your case before the full extent of your injury is known, there is likely nothing that can be done for you if additional injuries are later discovered. In one notable case, we represented a client whose head trauma did indeed result in a ruptured aneurysm. However, when we contacted the insurance company, we found out that our client neglected to tell us that he signed a general release shortly after the accident for one hundred dollars. He gave up what was likely a six figure settlement for less than the cost of a week’s groceries.
Is it too late to get a lawyer if I already signed a release?
Please note that Pennsylvania law does impose some restrictions as to when and where a general release may be signed. In very rare instances, it may be possible to set aside a release that a client has signed, but this is unusual indeed. If you have signed a release while in the hospital, within 15 days of your injury, or while incapacitated in some fashion, please contact us to review the circumstances of your case.
Can a lawyer get me a bigger settlement?
The most important reason, however, for having legal representation is to make certain that you receive an adequate settlement. We often meet with clients who have received an offer from an insurance company. Occasionally a fair offer is made and we will tell you if we don’t think we can improve upon it. However, it has been our experience that even after payment of legal fees, the net amount that the client receives is usually greater than what the insurance company had offered. Often the net result to the client is substantially better, even after payment of legal fees. So in effect the client has the benefit of having a lawyer and it effectively costs nothing in circumstances where the net result is better than the insurance company’s offer.
Why is this true? You don’t need to accept our experience alone. Let me quote from a book that is little known outside the insurance industry. It is called An Introduction to Liability Claims Adjusting by Corydont Jons. This is a book that has been used in training courses for insurance adjusters. Let me quote from the text:
If you have offered everything the case is worth, there is no more to offer. The case has no increase in value simply because an attorney has been engaged. Therefore, the widely recognized principal: “Never spend your top dollar until you think you can buy something with it.” This dictates caution and restraint in one’s final offer to a claimant.
The author is correct that merely because you have a lawyer your case is not made more valuable. However, insurance companies recognize that when they make an offer, the person receiving the offer may hire a lawyer. Once an attorney is retained, the client will usually not settle unless they net at least what they were originally offered. Therefore, if the insurance company wants to settle the claim, they will have to pay more.
While we usually are able to improve upon what the client has been offered, of course there is no guarantee. There may be facts that come to light that affect the value of the case one way or the other. Even if the client does not realize any improvement over what the insurance company had offered, they have received the benefit of professional representation. The client may have other issues or concerns beyond the settlement of the claim. The client may have concerns about future medical bills or providing for their family in the future. These are types of things which the other party’s insurance company couldn’t care less about, but our lawyers will be glad to help you with these concerns.
When should I hire a lawyer?
Remember that the best time to retain a lawyer is as soon as possible after an injury. At Bernard Stuczynski & Barnett we are always happy to provide a free evaluation of your claim. If you have received an offer from an insurance company, it makes sense to contact us to review if your offer was fair. Once we review everything that is known about your case, we will likely advise one of three steps to take:
- The offer is reasonable and you should accept it;
- We think there is a good possibility we can do better; or
- Further investigation is necessary to determine whether it is a fair offer.
If you’re curious as to whether or not you are being offered a fair settlement, call our firm today for a free consultation. We’ll let you know.
Some personal injury cases are an uphill battle. Our law firm takes the hard cases.
There is a saying among lawyers that “when the facts are against you, argue the law; when the law is against you, argue the facts; when both the law and the facts are against you, just argue.” There is a lot of wisdom in this saying. First, it illustrates the importance of having accurate facts. When a lawyer renders an opinion, it is based on the facts as they are presently understood. If a critical assumed fact turns out to be wrong, that can change an opinion previously given. The saying also shows the importance of having a thorough understanding of the law as applied to the facts of the case. Finally, the saying is reflective of the lawyers’ duty to his or her client. The rules of professional conduct require a lawyer to advocate their client’s position “zealously.” The adage “just argue” may apply more in the criminal law field than to personal injury. In representing a criminal defendant, a lawyer often finds that both the facts and the law are very unfavorable.
Despite the fact that many clients think their lawyer can work a miracle, in the civil law field, which is anything other than criminal, the lawyer always has two big obstacles to overcome: the judge and opposing counsel. If there is a problem with the facts or the law in your case, you can count on opposing counsel to point out those deficiencies. A judge will know your case is weak if there is a problem with either the facts or the law.
What makes a personal injury case more difficult?
I have always said that it is much more difficult to be a plaintiff’s lawyer than a defense lawyer. Representing the plaintiff, you have to be right about everything. A defense lawyer only needs to be right about the one hole in your case, whether it happens to be a critical factual dispute or a legal ambiguity.
That said, there is rarely a perfect case from the plaintiff’s point of view. Witness stories will vary leading to a dispute over a critical fact. Conflicting decisions from different courts may result in an ambiguity in the law. There is nearly always a dispute over the extent of injuries, or the impact of those injuries on the plaintiff’s life. The critical element is having the experience to know which deficiencies in a case can be overcome, and which will result in a dismissal. Of course, no lawyer can ever be 100% accurate in their opinions. There is another adage that every litigator will attest to, which is that “I have won cases that I expected to lose and I have lost cases that I expected to win.”
Many lawyers shy away from what appears to be a difficult case. Some law firms only want you as a client if you were rear-ended while stopped at a red light. At Bernard Stuczynski & Barnett, we pride ourselves on being able to analyze cases that have very difficult facts. We have a track record of succeeding many times with cases that have been rejected by other law firms.I will discuss a few specific examples.
Example One: Obtaining Workers’ Compensation for an injured Horse Jockey
Although all of these cases are a matter of the public record, the specific facts have been changed in order to protect the identity of the client. One case that comes to mind is that of a female exercise rider at the local horse racetrack. Exercise riders typically are freelancers, meaning that they may ride for several different trainers. We represented an exercise rider who was seriously injured when thrown by a horse. Ordinarily, an independent contractor is not entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. However, under the law, if facts can be developed showing that the relationship is more of an employer-employee one, then it may be possible to collect workers’ compensation benefits. In this case, we were able to develop that the exercise rider worked on a regular basis for the same trainer, the trainer provided specific instructions as to how to exercise the horse and generally exerted control over the rider. Through thorough legal research we also located an obscure workers’ compensation decision that awarded benefits to an exercise rider. On top of all the difficulties of the case, the trainer was uninsured. As a result of properly developing the facts and the law, we were successful in obtaining benefits from the Uninsured Employer Guaranty Fund.
Example Two: Workers’ Compensation and Personal Injury Settlements for Trucker that hit a Farm Animal
In another memorable case, we represented a truck driver who struck a bridge abutment. He was very seriously injured and there was no question that he was entitled to workers’ compensation. The collision was caused by our client striking a cow that was loose on the road. With this seemingly impossible set of facts, not the least of which was whether or not our client should have been able to see and avoid the cow, we were able to obtain a substantial recovery for him. We did this through an exhaustive investigation which, among other things, developed that the owner of the animal had neglected to close the pasture gate on the evening of the collision. Ordinarily, when a worker obtains a settlement from a third party, the workers’ compensation insurer is entitled to their money back. However, in this case, we were able to negotiate a substantial settlement from both the farmer’s liability insurance and the workers’ compensation carrier.
Example Three: Settlement for Slip-and-Fall in a Grocery Store
In another case with difficult facts, we represented a woman who slipped and fell on a broken jar of pickles at a grocery store. A grocery store is not liable for such an occurrence unless the plaintiff can establish that the store had notice of the hazard and had ample time to clean it up. While many law firms would summarily reject such a case, we were able to develop evidence that another customer had actually reported the hazard several hours before the injury. We were able then to negotiate a very good settlement for our client.
Our law firm takes the hard cases that other firms reject.
When a lawyer chooses to accept or reject a case, it is simply a matter of opinion. If we reject a case, we feel we are actually benefiting the client by saving them the agony of pursuing an unsuccessful claim. However, we do take seriously our ethical obligation to not lightly reject a client’s case. At Bernard Stuczynski & Barnett, we are always happy to provide a free case review—no matter how difficult the case may first appear. Even if you have been turned down by another lawyer, we may be able to help. We treat clients the way that we would like to be treated if we were the client.
How much is a contingent fee?
A contingent fee is a fee that is contingent upon a recovery; that is, the lawyer’s fee is only paid when the lawyer successfully obtains a recovery. In a typical workers’ compensation, personal injury, or car accident case, the fee is completely contingent, meaning that the client pays nothing unless money is collected. This has traditionally been known as “the poor man’s key to the court house.” This means that a person with a meritorious claim can be represented by the best lawyer even if they are not able to afford his high hourly rates.
At Bernard Stuczynski & Barnett, all injury, workers’ compensation, and Social Security Disability claims are handled on a complete contingency basis. Our clients pay nothing unless and until we get them a recovery.
Not all contingent fees are created equal
Although the contingent fees charged by lawyers are similar, there are significant differences. In addition to the fee, a law firm is entitled to be reimbursed for any expenses that they have advanced. This can include such things as medical records, expert witness fees, deposition expenses and investigator fees. While the reimbursement of these expenses is to be expected and legitimate, it also has the potential for abuse. For example, some of the larger personal injury “mills” are known to charge for a private investigator in nearly every case. This may even be an investigator who is on the law firm’s payroll! The fact is that many cases do not require an investigator. Although police reports are certainly not 100% accurate, much of the time they are sufficient. We always try to keep our clients’ costs down when possible, and only hire an investigator when it will actually benefit the case. We often do some of the investigative duties ourselves. Not only does this reduce costs, it gives the lawyer a better feel for the evidence than reading an investigator’s report.
With contingent fees, it doesn’t cost any more to hire the best lawyer than it does to hire an inexperienced lawyer.
Fees charged by personal injury attorneys tend to be very similar. Typically they are 20% in a Pennsylvania workers’ compensation case, 25% in a Social Security Disability case and 33 1/3% in a motor vehicle collision case. Even though the fees charged by attorneys are similar, it’s important to note that you can hire a firm of experienced personal injury attorneys to represent you for the same price that might be charged by a recent law school graduate or general practitioner who only occasionally sees a personal injury case. At Bernard Stuczynski & Barnett, our clients can be confident that personal injury work is all we do; we don’t “dabble” in it. You gain the benefit of a team of experienced injury lawyers. Our goal is to put the most money we can into our clients’ pockets. This requires experience and care. If you’re looking to hire a lawyer on a contingent basis, give us a call to set up your free consultation today.