If you were injured at work and ended up with complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) as a result of the injury, you may be eligible for workers’ compensation (WC). Under WC, your employer’s workers’ compensation insurance policy pays for your injury-related expenses (e.g., medical expenses and lost wages). Any WC case can be difficult, but a WC case that involves CRPS is typically even more difficult for a few reasons:
1. the disorder is not well understood
2. different individuals have different signs and symptoms
3. the symptoms can come and go
If you are having trouble with your WC paying for your medical care, you can contact your state’s WC official. WC laws vary by state, but each state has a WC official who heads an agency with a name such as “Division of Workers’ Compensation,” “Industrial Commission,” “Workforce Safety and Insurance,” or “Division of Labor & Management.”
The contact information for your state’s agency is in the blue government pages of your phone book and on the federal government’s Department of Labor‘s website. Some states, such as Oregon and Kansas, also have an ombudsman to help injured workers through the process. The ombudsman’s office can be found through the state WC agency and may also be able to help you find legal advice.
In addition, you may also want to see if there is a program in your state that helps people with private health insurance.
If your state does have a program for private insurance, ask if it can handle WC complaints. WC cases may be handled differently from private health insurance complaints, but still the staff may be able to help, especially if the complaint relates to provider billing problems.
Getting a Legal Referral
Given the complications of CRPS WC cases, they often require a lawyer who specializes in WC, and ideally a lawyer who understands CRPS and how it affects you. If you decide to look for a lawyer to represent you in a WC case related to CRPS, first ask your friends, colleagues, family members, fellow support group members, or neighbors for recommendations. Word of mouth is often the best way to find a good attorney, especially if you get the same recommendation from more than one person. Another source of recommendations is through an Internet chatroom or bulletin board support group.
If you cannot find an attorney for your case through personal connections, several organizations have referral services.
The American Bar Association (ABA) has a referral service by state on its website. (Click on “Learn More/FAQs” on the left-hand side of that page to read helpful ABA publications, such as “Hiring a Lawyer,” “Paying a Lawyer,” “Finding Free Help,” and “Legal Terms.”)
Some links let you search for a lawyer by specific specialties (such as WC or the broader term of employment law). There are also many state and local bar association with directories of their members, often listed by specialty; you may contact those associations for suggestions.
To find local bar associations in your state, see the ABA’s State and Local Bar Association Directory.
In addition, many trial lawyers take WC cases, and the American Association for Justice has a referral service for anyone who is considering suing another party in civil (not criminal) court. The Association has a CRPS litigation group whose members hold seminars to discuss strategies with CRPS cases and exchange medical information, so someone who is a member of this group may have a better understanding of your situation than someone who is not.
There are several sources of referrals specifically for WC cases.
- The Workers Injury Law & Advocacy Group, a not-for-profit association of plaintiffs’ attorneys who represent workers, offers a referral service.
- The California Applicants’ Attorneys Association, a not-for-profit association of lawyers who advocate for injured workers, also offers referrals to its members on its homepage.
- The nonprofit Injured Workers Association of Utah offers referrals and information specific to Utah here.
- Injured Workers of New York, Inc., a not-for-profit organization that sits on the New York State Workers’ Compensation Board’s Practices & Procedures Committee, helps injured workers in that state obtain the necessary medical, legal, and financial help.
One commercial website, a Lawyer Directory from LexisNexis, lets you search for a lawyer by specialty, including employment law. The site gives you information about the firm’s size and whether or not the firm offers a free initial (or first) consultation. (Remember that the order in which the lawyers are listed on some websites may be due to fees the lawyers have paid to the site.)
You can also find an attorney through the listings in the business pages of your local phone book under the subject area “lawyers” or “attorneys.” Still, remember that it is often better to find a lawyer—like any other professional you may hire—on the basis of a personal recommendation from someone you trust who knows the attorney’s skills and abilities.
If you do not have much income, LawHelp may help you find a free or low-cost legal aid program to help with a variety of issues, including employment issues. (Keep in mind that legal aid programs typically focus more on issues such as housing, bankruptcy, and disability.) You may also find a legal aid clinic in the phone book or through a bar association. Some bar associations may be able to refer you to lawyers who may help you for reduced fees if your income is limited.
Choosing a Lawyer
If you decide that you definitely need an attorney—whether for a WC case or other issue—it is generally a good idea to speak with a few lawyers before deciding which lawyer to hire or to retain. You may want to have a friend or family member—someone whose opinion you value—come to the meeting with you. Then asking the lawyers questions, such as those below, may help you make a good choice.
- What do you charge, if anything, for the first or initial consultation?
- Do you accept workers’ compensation cases on a contingency* basis?
- What do you expect the fee for your services to be?
- What do you estimate your expenses will be?
- How long have you been practicing law?
- What experience and credentials do you have in workers’ compensation law?
- How much do you know about CRPS?
- Have you attended any relevant seminars or courses?
- How many similar cases have you had and how successful have you been?
- What do you think my chances of success are?
- How long do you think it will take to resolve my case?
- What paralegals or other lawyers, if any, will work with you on my case, and who will be my primary contact?
- Do you have malpractice insurance?
- Can I review your attorney-client contract that I would be expected to sign? (It is a good idea to take it home with you to review carefully before signing.)
You may also want to call the Better Business Bureau to see if any complaints have been filed against the attorneys you are considering. The lawyers’ associations and some states also keep a record of attorneys against whom complaints have been filed or legal action has been taken, but these lists vary by state. If you still are not sure about your choice of attorneys, ask for a follow-up meeting if that will help. Make sure you feel comfortable with your decision before you agree to hire anyone.
Having Co-Counsel on Your Case
You may end up with more than one attorney, especially if your case is complicated. If your lawyer needs the expertise of another lawyer, your lawyer will arrange for the other lawyer (the co-counsel) to help with the case. Sometimes the co-counsel is a prominent expert in one aspect of your case but is not licensed to practice law in your state; thus he/she works with your attorney who is licensed to practice law in your state.
If you become unhappy with your attorney, you do not have to have that person continue to represent you. You may simply inform the lawyer, in writing if required (or preferred), that you wish to hire other legal counsel. (In some states you must complete forms about your change in attorneys; ask the state’s WC agency for details.) However, make sure that you know the status of your case, including all upcoming deadlines, and that you are aware of any consequences from firing your lawyer. In addition, you should expect to pay for the services provided up to that point and for the time that it will take for the next attorney to become familiar with your case. Generally, your legal file belongs to you.
Two other resources on WC cases are the RSDSA Review articles How to Lose Your Case in 12 Easy Steps and Workers’ Compensation 101: An Overview of WC for Employees With Work-related CRPS, both by R. Steven Shisler, Esq.
Updated February 2021