Hiring a Personal Injury or Accident Attorney
The cost to hire an accident attorney is similar from state to state and from lawyer to lawyer. In every state, you can hire an accident attorney on a contingency fee basis. The differences include the percentage of the contingency fee and how the case expenses are charged.
What is a Contingency Fee?
A contingency fee is a legal fee based upon a contingent event. When HURT in an accident, the contingent event is whether the lawyer gets money for you or not. If your attorney successfully obtains money for you, the contingency is met and the legal fee becomes due. If your attorney is not successful and does not get money for you, the contingency is not reached and you will not be charged.
There are many reasons why it may not be possible to get money for you. As an example, your attorney may find that there is no insurance coverage to pay for your injuries; your attorney may find that there is no one who can be considered negligent for having caused your injury; or your attorney may have thought that your injury could become serious but later find that your injury resolved or is not serious enough for your attorney to pursue a claim.
Contingency fee percentage rates vary from state to state and from lawyer to lawyer. Some states do not allow lawyers to charge more than one third (33.333%) and some states have higher limits while some states do not have any limits. Some states allow different percentages depending upon whether your case is settled before filing a lawsuit or after. For instance, one third if settled before filing a lawsuit or 40% after filing a lawsuit. Attorneys in some states charge 50%.
Almost every accident attorney represents accident victims on a contingency fee basis. If you call a lawyer who wants to charge an hourly fee or an upfront fee to represent you for injuries in an accident, call another lawyer.
Can I negotiate the contingency fee for my accident case?
It’s difficult to find a personal injury lawyer willing to negotiate a lower percentage and most lawyers will not reduce their fee. You will be less likely to negotiate a lower fee in a state that limits legal fees to one third. You will also be less likely to negotiate a lower fee if your case is not simple and easy.
Because lawyers usually have to do a lot of work for a long time and advance case expenses, lawyers are reluctant to charge less. I personally have never agreed to reduce my legal fee even for easy cases because I provide personal service and my full time and attention to every client. Although it’s not supposed to happen, negotiating a lower percentage could possibly provide an incentive for your lawyer to obtain a quick settlement even if it’s lower.
What Expenses Are There For an Accident Case?
Following are general examples of personal injury case expenses (every case is different):
- Investigation of the accident can range from just a few dollars to a few hundred dollars and even over $1000.
- Medical records and reports can range from as little as $25 to many hundreds of dollars.
- Court costs and other court related expenses can range from $200+ to $500.
- Depositions of the plaintiff and defendant usually cost approx $500.
- A deposition of your doctor can cost approx $2,500 for your doctor’s fee plus the court reporter’s fee and videographer’s fee if videotaped.
- Trial expenses are usually in the range from $10,000-$50,000
When do I have to pay for case expenses?
You should pay all personal injury case expenses out of your settlement at the end of your case. When calling an accident attorney, should ask if the attorney will advance case expenses or if you will be responsible to advance any case expenses. It’s rare that a personal injury lawyer will require a client to advance case expenses but unless there is some benefit to you, you should not advance case expenses. As can be seen above, case expenses can be quite expensive and it’s best to make sure your lawyer will advance case expenses.
While case expenses are usually charged at the end of your case, the case expenses and legal fees may be computed differently. Case expenses may be charged off the top of your personal injury settlement with legal fees computed on the net balance or the legal fees may be computed as a percentage of the gross settlement and then returning the case expenses to the lawyer.
I have seen advice on the Internet to request that your lawyer set a spending limit warning requiring the lawyer to contact you when expenses hit $1,000.00. I think this is terrible advice and I would personally refuse to represent anyone who would require that. I would not want a client jeopardizing their case because they refuse to let me spend money on unnecessary case expenses. Your lawyer knows best what expenses are necessary to make sure your case is successful and to maximize its settlement value. Your lawyer does not have an incentive to pay and risk their money for unnecessary case expenses.
What Happens If I Lose My Case or My Lawyer Doesn’t Want to Continue?
Usually, your attorney takes the risk for both legal fees and case expenses when a contingency fee is used. This means that you will not be responsible either for legal fees or case expenses. This assumes that you signed a retainer providing a contingency fee with the lawyer advancing case expenses. Make sure that your retainer says that you are not responsible for legal fees or her case expenses if you do not receive any money.
According to the Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics, one third of personal injury cases lose. Because accident lawyers take the risk; advance case expenses without charging interest; work many hours on your accident case; and wait several years to get paid while rent and office overhead must be paid monthly, you should now be able to understand why accident attorneys charge a high percentage legal fee to represent you for injuries sustained in an accident.
If your personal injury lawyer doesn’t want to continue with your case, you should look for another personal injury attorney. If your new lawyer charges the same legal fee as your previous lawyer, you should not have to pay any additional legal fees or case expenses. Your new personal injury attorney will pay your previous attorney for the case expenses and you should pay for the case expenses at the end of your personal injury case.