by David P. Nomberg

Over the last several years, the phrase “settlement mill” has been heard more and more in the legal profession. A settlement mill is a high-volume personal injury law practice that aggressively advertise and mass produce the resolution of claims, typically with little interaction and without initiating lawsuits, much less taking claims to trial. Run-of-the-Mill Justice, Nora Freeman Engstrom

There are many articles discussing settlement mills available for review. This article is not to discuss settlement mills as defined by Ms. Engstrom but rather to discuss a different version of the settlement mill seen in workers’ compensation claims in Alabama. This version of the settlement mill is created when injured workers settle their claims without a lawyer representing them and go accept their settlement check at the insurance company office or at the law office of the attorney representing the insurance company. On any given day, you can have six to ten injured workers, not represented by counsel, at the same office there to accept a settlement check.

This happens every week in Alabama. Dozens of injured workers accept whatever offer the insurance company makes them, then they attend a Benefits Review Conference at the insurance company’s office, the plant where they work or the insurance company’s attorney’s office. The injured worker accepts what they are told, without advice of counsel and without anyone truly considering their best interests.

Workers take these settlements without legal advice, without knowing what rights they are giving up and without knowing if they are maximizing their recovery. Additionally, the settlement documents will be drafted in a manner that favors the employer/insurance company because their lawyer drafted them. This is done all over Alabama every day, with thousands of claims being settled without the injured worker having advice of counsel.

Why do injured workers choose to proceed without a lawyer representing them? One recent example shows some insight. A client recently told me an insurance adjuster told him “You don’t need to hire a lawyer. They take 15%. You’ve got me.” Had my client believed the adjuster, they would not have been in my office hiring me to represent them. Unfortunately, so many injured workers fall for this line and do not hire a lawyer.

Why do some injured workers not hire a lawyer? Some injured workers think they will get fired in retaliation for hiring an attorney. Some fear their workers’ compensation benefits will be terminated for hiring a lawyer. Some employees think “its just a work comp claim so my employer will take care of me.” While others think they cannot afford a lawyer when in fact hiring a lawyer for a workers’ compensation case will not cost the injured worker any money out of their own pocket.

A workers’ compensation settlement can be approved by the State Ombudsman or circuit court judge. Sometimes the injured worker gets protection in court when the judge will not approve the settlement because it appears to be too unfair and not in the best interests of the injured worker. That is how we ended up representing a man with a $20,000 settlement and turned it into a $127,500 settlement result.  However, these examples are few and far between. The injured worker is just better off hiring a lawyer.

Do not allow yourself to be put into the mill and spit out with a settlement that does not maximize your recovery. Do not get the wool pulled over your eyes by accepting what the insurance company tells you is what is best for you. If a lawyer represents the insurance company/employer he/she cannot tell you what is in your best interests because he/she works for the other side. That lawyer’s client is the insurance company/employer, NOT YOU!

Call an experienced workers’ compensation attorney today to discuss you rights. If you have questions about a workers’ compensation claim, please call us today at (205) 930-6900. To find out more about the Nomberg Law Firm, go to our website nomberglaw.com.

photo credit: VaMedia/Michael Miller via photopin (license)

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Steve Altmann has been assisting consumers and business owners with bankruptcy matters for more than 27 years. 

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