Five questions to ask a disability lawyer before hiring one

Five questions to ask a disability lawyer before hiring one

Finding the right lawyer to represent you in a disability insurance claim can be challenging, but there are key questions to ask lawyers to ensure they’re a good fit for your situation, says Toronto personal injury and disability lawyer Nainesh Kotak.

If your short- or long-term disability insurance claim has been denied or terminated, it’s best to work with a knowledgeable disability lawyer who understands the inner workings of the insurance companies’ processes, says Kotak, principal lawyer of Kotak Law.

“You want a firm whose primary area of practice is disability law,” he says. “Our entire team is heavily focused there, and we understand the ins and outs of navigating these types of cases, which can be quite complex.”

Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in March, Kotak says his firm has seen at least a 50 percent increase in denied claims associated with mental health disability, despite research showing that COVID-19 is having an adverse impact on mental health. A recent Quebec study, for example, found that one in four adults (one in two young adults) report symptoms consistent with a generalized anxiety disorder or major depression.

A disability lawyer can also help claimants whose benefits have been cut off by their insurance company, Kotak says.

“Many disability insurance policies have a change of definition clause for how total disability is defined. Usually, for the first two years, disability is defined as an inability to perform the essential tasks of your pre-disability employment. However, after two years, many insurance companies define disability as being totally disabled from performing any gainful occupation that you are suited for or could become suited for by way of education, training or experience,” he explains.

But based on his experience of handling these types of cases, Kotak says many people suffering from chronic pain, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, IBS, colitis, degenerative disk disease, depression, stress, anxiety and other ailments are often unable to perform any job due to their condition.

“An experienced disability attorney can help you gather the medical evidence you may need to establish that you do, in fact, meet the definition of total disability as set out in the insurance policy,” he says.

Here’s a list of essential questions to ask your disability lawyer before you sign a retainer agreement:

How will you update me on the progress of my case?

Kotak says one of the key qualities to look for in a disability attorney is one who takes the time to listen to your story, answers all your questions and then formulates a strategy to deal with a denied or terminated claim.

“Communication is the most important element in establishing a good client solicitor relationship, especially in disability law where clients are extremely vulnerable,” he says. Often, they have no income, they’re not being paid insurance benefits, and they’re under a great deal of stress. They need an advocate who understands this complex area of law and has a successful track record resolving cases.”

It’s also important for clients to feel that their disability attorney empathizes with their situation, Kotak adds.

“Our clients are often surprised by how much we know about their particular illness, whether it’s physical or psychological,” he says. “Working on these disability files, day-in and day-out give us an appreciation of those dynamics.”

Kotak advises people to trust their instincts if they feel a lawyer is rushing them or won’t have time to update them on the progress of their case.

“The foundation of every client relationship is trust — they put their faith in our expertise. Part of that is the reliance on your advice and responding to their questions in a timely manner, whether during regular office hours or after hours,” he says.

What experience does your firm have with disability claims?

Evaluating the merits of disability insurance cases can be complicated, so it’s important to select a firm with deep roots in this area, Kotak says.

“We have extensive experience dealing with short- and long-term disability claims, and we know how insurance companies work and the strategies they use to discontinue or deny claims,” he says. “We understand the most effective way to resolve these cases in the most expeditious manner.”

Resolving these claims quickly is critical because when people can’t work due to illness, they’re often struggling financially.

“You want a lawyer who knows how to move your case through the litigation process to a speedy resolution, so you’re not without compensation or benefits for a protracted period of time,” Kotak says. “Not having the financial resources to pay for basic needs or required therapy often exacerbates depression and anxiety.”

Kotak says previous clients’ reviews can also offer useful insight into both the firm’s success and how it works with clients.

“Looking at legitimate Google reviews can be very helpful, especially ones that have in-depth information around the details of the case and how the firm resolved it. This unsolicited feedback is a good indication of what you can expect from the firm.”

Potential clients should also look for signs the law firm is regarded as an authority in disability law, Kotak says.

“Our firm is a go-to source for the media on serious disability law issues and the challenges clients have when they need to fight their insurance companies,” he says, adding that his firm also leverages social media to raise awareness around these issues.

How long will it take to resolve my case?

Kotak says that by the time a client hires a disability attorney, they’re often frustrated and dejected. He says his job is to reassure them that their illness will be taken seriously, the right medical evidence assembled and that they will be kept informed about the progress of their case and given realistic expectations.

“We want to put our clients at ease when they come through the door, so they tell their story in its entirety, and trust that we are going to fight for them,” he says.

The majority of disability cases are resolved through negotiation or mediation, not at trial, Kotak explains.

Before the pandemic, he says those meetings took place in person and organizing the physical space and the various parties’ attendance could take a significant amount of time.

“Since March, we’ve been able to leverage technology, including mediation via Zoom video conferencing, so it’s taking less time to resolve cases.”

Will I need to pay legal fees upfront?

When a person is off work due to illness and not receiving disability insurance benefits, Kotak says they often don’t have the financial means to pay out of pocket for legal expenses.

“We work on a contingency basis, which means we only get paid if we achieve a settlement in your case,” he says. “That means we do a careful analysis of every case and will advise you as to its chances of success.”

A couple of years ago, Kotak says he and an associate did a mediation for a 28-year-old man who had a stressful job and struggled with severe addiction and mental health problems, including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

“He often seemed spaced out. But we got a large settlement for him, and when we finished, I turned to my associate and said, ‘This is why we do it.’You should have seen how surprised and grateful the young man and his father were. We made an important difference in their lives.”

Who at the firm will be involved in my case?

Kotak says in his boutique firm, everyone works together to support clients, including the lawyers, law clerks and support staff.

“Working as a team, where everyone is up to speed on the details of each case, allows us to resolve them much faster. And at the end of the day, clients know they always have access to me,” he says.

We understand that being denied short-term disability or long-term disability benefits can be devastating.  Your time to fight your disability insurance company is limited.  Please do not delay in calling a short- and long-term disability claim lawyer at Kotak Personal Injury Law. We have successfully sued numerous disability insurance companies including Manulife, Sunlife, Desjardins, Cigna, Great West Life, Equitable Life, Empire Life, London Life, Blue Cross, AIG, SSQ, RBC, Industrial Alliance, Canada Life, Fenchurch, OTIP, Teachers Life and more.

Call your trusted long-term disability lawyers at  1-888-GOKOTAK (Toll Free for all of Canada), or (416) 816-1500 (Local Number for Ontario Residents), (403) 319-0071, (587) 414-1010 (Local Numbers for Alberta Residents).  Our consultation is free, and we don’t get paid until you do.  We represent disabled people throughout Ontario and Alberta, including Toronto, Mississauga, Brampton, Milton, Georgetown, Orangeville, Oakville, Burlington, Hamilton, St.Catharines, Niagara Falls, Stoney Creek, Kitchener/Waterloo, Cambridge, London, Windsor, Markham, Pickering, Oshawa, Peterborough, Keswick, Kingston, Ottawa, Banff, Brooks, Calgary, Edmonton, Fort McMurray, Grande Prairie, Jasper, Lake Louise, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, Red Deer, Saint Albert and other locations.