First off, not everyone who is injured at work will need to retain a workers' compensation attorney. In fact, only a relatively small percentage of claimants will ever need to retain an attorney. However, the workers compensation system is quite complex and can be a frustrating web of unfamiliar terminology and paperwork. Thus, I strongly encourage injured workers to immediately consult with a workers' compensation attorney when an accident does occur. A reputable workers' compensation attorney will be happy to provide a free, no risk, consultation during which time they will be able to provide you with useful information on how to best handle your claim and determine whether or not you will need to retain their services.
Second, though it is particularly difficult to pin down the exact moment when a claimant needs to retain a workers' compensation attorney. There are several "triggers" that should prompt an injured worker to contact a workers' compensation attorney immediately.
The first "trigger" is obvious, if your benefits are denied you need to contact a workers' compensation attorney. A denial of an injured worker's benefits can occur for countless reasons and a knowledgeable workers' compensation attorney will be able to aid you in appealing the denial.
A second trigger that injured workers should be aware of is if the insurance company is trying to schedule an independent medical examination (IME). Independent medical examinations are often the death knell to an ongoing workers compensation claim. Though an injured worker is required to attend an independent medical examination, contacting a workers' compensation attorney prior to a denial will allow your attorney to prepare your case in advance to expedite the appeal process.
Lastly, an injured worker should retain a workers' compensation attorney
if they have suffered an injury that will result in permanent partial disability. This is especially true if the injury is to the neck or the spine because a separate claim for loss of earning capacity or vocational rehabilitation may exist.