Most personal injury attorneys charge a “contingency fee.” That means their fee depends on the amount they recover for you. A typical contingency fee is one-third of the recovery amount or slightly more than one-third if your attorney has to file a lawsuit rather than just negotiate a settlement. The contingent fee structure gives your attorney extra incentive to fight to win your case – no recovery means no fee.
When do I have to pay?
Generally, personal injury settlements are negotiated and paid long after you’ve received all the medical treatment you need. That means you’ve already had to pay for those treatments and you probably don’t have a ton of cash left over to pay an attorney. So, to make sure that you have access to a lawyer when you’ve been injured, personal injury attorneys don’t collect a fee until the case is over.
In other words, you never have to make a payment to the lawyer out of pocket. Your settlement will cover your legal expenses and fees.
Why are the fees set up this way?
For other types of cases, your attorney would generally charge an hourly fee. That means you’ll have to pay some up front and more as the hours add up. You still have to pay even if you lose the case and get no compensation. Most people filing personal injury suits don’t have the resources to pay an attorney hourly, especially if they’ve been out of work due to their injuries. The contingent fee structure makes sure people get the legal help they need without worrying about a huge bill.
A contingent fee structure also helps to line up your attorney’s interests with your interests. You both want the biggest payout possible. The greater the settlement you get, the greater the fee the attorney gets. If you don’t get anything at all, you don’t have to dig into your wallet to pay your attorney. You’re suing because you have medical bills and pain and suffering – you don’t need a big attorney bill on top of all that!
The amount a victim can recover varies significantly according to the type and severity of injury, the cause, and other circumstances surrounding the case. Most personal injury cases end with a settlement before you go to trial. That means the person or party you’re suing (or more commonly their insurance company) will offer you a certain amount of cash in exchange for dropping the case. Basically, the defendant will guess what a jury would award you if the case went to trial, adjusted for how likely you are to win.
When predicting what a jury would award, you’ll need to consider several factors. First, you’ll want to recover all of your concrete costs that stem from the injury. That includes medical bills, lost wages, the cost of any damaged property, and any other specific expenses. Next, you’ll want to recover for any “pain and suffering” you experienced as a result of the injury. You may also have a claim for punitive damages above and beyond your concrete bills and your pain and suffering, which the court would impose as a punishment to the defendant and as an incentive to avoid repeating the behavior that caused your injury. Finally, the defendant will give you a higher settlement offer if his guilt is relatively clear-cut. In other words, if the defendant knows he’s likely to lose at trial, he’ll offer you more up front in order to avoid the time-consuming and expensive trial process. If your case is relatively weak, on the other hand, you’ll get lower settlement offers.
You’ll accept a settlement that matches or exceeds what you and your attorney determine you’d be likely to get at trial. You should reject an offer lower than what you’re likely to get at trial. Remember that the defendant will be using the same calculation and wants you to accept the lowest possible settlement. Your attorney can help you decide if a settlement is fair or if you should push for a higher offer or go to trial.
How do I decide whether the cost is worth it?
Consider the extent of your injuries and the cost of the treatment. For relatively small amounts, it may not be worth it to you to hire an attorney because the recovery won’t be very large and you’ll pay one-third of it in fees. For any significant amount or if your case is complicated in any way, you want to have an attorney behind you to deal with the insurance companies and make sure you get a fair deal.