It is somewhat amusing for me to hear from potential clients who ask for advice while they try to represent themselves in a workers’ compensation case. Why they do this is generally for financial reasons. (Of course we have those who call because the lawyer they’ve hired doesn’t return their phone call to answer their questions, but that is a blog for another day.)
In Iowa workers’ compensation law has gotten a lot more complex and the entire value of the case can turn on the facts. One case can be successful and another entirely falls apart because the injured worker hasn’t been properly instructed on what counts in the valuation process. (The idea being to focus on what creates value, not what will likely destroy it.) You can have two injured workers with exactly the same injury, surgery and restrictions but who have entirely different industrial disability ratings based on education and experience. History counts in workers’ compensation cases. And industrial disability drives the end value.
Of course the weekly compensation rate counts a lot when it comes to total value. A rate of $100.00 per week versus one with a $300.00 per week rate is worth one-third of the latter. And while a few dollars per week won’t separate the two by much the industrial disability rating will. That is where experience can make the difference in the case; the experienced lawyer will stress the weaknesses in the workers’ age, education and work experience along with the restrictions that make a difference to future employment. After all a house built on a bad foundation is never going to outlast the test of time or have a good re-sale value, for that matter.
But being able to refocus attention on certain facts requires an understanding of not just the law but also the client. Who are you? Where have you worked? What sort of work have you done? How bright or how dull are you from an intellectual standpoint? Workers’ compensation is no place to have too much pride. Boasting is not profitable. Leave the cheerleading to the defense lawyers and insurance adjusters. They see your world through rose-colored glasses. We plaintiff lawyers see reality, hungry kids and nervous spouses. We see long periods of unemployment, late mortgage payments, rent not paid, homelessness, a lack of medical insurance coverage, unpaid medical bills, drinking problems and a long list of broken dreams. That’s because plaintiff attorneys field the calls while the defense industry hit the links. It's the difference between golf and the gutter.
You can represent yourself, but it’s not likely to turn out the way you hoped. And that is simply a matter of your not understanding the law and which facts matter the most. And so write to me if you must, but don’t ask me to take time away from paying clients, those who have hired Katrina and I. When you write or call for “free advice” you go to the end of the line and get a return call, if at all, at day’s end.
Attorney Lombardi has been practicing in this area of the law since 1981. He regularly writes about his experiences in the practice of personal injury and workers’ compensation law. He can be contacted through his website or by telephoning his office. Initial interviews are normally by phone. He practices state wide.