Most personal injury lawyers do not charge a fee for an initial legal consultation or case evaluation. The lawyer will typically meet with a prospective client in person, over the telephone, or via Zoom for the initial consultation. During that meeting, the attorney will review the circumstances of the accident with his or her prospective client and discuss the options for pursuing a personal injury claim arising from the incident.
In some cases, the lawyer may need to do some additional research into the accident to make a final determination about whether the prospective client has a valid or worthwhile case. If enough information is available at the time, the lawyer might accept the case during the initial consultation.
If the prospective client decides that he or she wants a lawyer to handle the personal injury case, then the issue of legal fees arises. Most personal injury lawyers work on what is called a “contingency fee.” Contingency fee arrangements allow the attorney to be paid a percentage of any recovery on the case if there is a recovery. If there is no recovery, the client pays the attorney nothing. The prospective client will need to sign the lawyer’s contingency fee agreement (CFA).
Since the terms of a CFA can be different at one firm than another, the prospective client should ask questions and seek clarification on any unclear items or issues in the agreement. Usually this involves issues like the contingency fee percentages and when they are triggered, who is responsible for various case costs and how liens are handled. Once the client signs the contingency fee agreement, the attorney can begin representing the client in his or her personal injury matter.
What Are Personal Injury Cases?
A personal injury case is a legal matter that arises when someone is injured or killed because of the wrongdoing–often negligence–of another person or company.
A personal injury claim or lawsuit can result in many ways. Common examples include:
- Motor vehicle collisions (including those involving cars, trucks, and motorcycles)
- Bicycle accidents
- Pedestrian accidents (usually where a motor vehicle collides with a pedestrian)
- Workplace accidents
- Defective products
- Slip and fall accidents and other accidents that happen on premises that belong to another individual or entity
In personal injury claims and lawsuits, the accident victim (called the “plaintiff”) has the burden of proving all of the legal elements in the case.
For a plaintiff to prevail in a personal injury case, he or she must demonstrate:
- That the at-fault person or entity owed the injured individual a legal duty (usually to use reasonable care)
- That the person or entity at fault violated that duty of care in one or more ways (such as by violating a traffic law in a motor vehicle accident case)
- That this violation of the duty of care brought about the subject accident
- That the accident victim suffered physical or emotional injuries and/or economic damages as a result of the accident
Once you consult an experienced personal injury attorney in your area and sign a CFA, the lawyer can begin representing you in the personal injury case and taking action to pursue monetary compensation on your behalf.
A lawyers representation can include, among other things:
- Gathering all of your medical records and bills from the healthcare providers who treated your injuries
- Preparing and submit a settlement demand package to the insurance company, seeking payment for damages
- Negotiating settlement terms with the insurance company adjuster
- Filing a lawsuit if your case cannot be settled favorably with the insurance company
- Litigating your case in the court, including trying your case before a judge and jury if a pre-trial settlement cannot be achieved
- Negotiating with entities who may have liens against your recovery (often treatment providers and/or health insurers)
What Is a Contingency Fee in a Personal Injury Case?
Personal injury attorneys in most jurisdictions handle cases on a contingency fee basis. This means that the lawyer does not take a fee unless or until the personal injury case settles or garners a favorable trial verdict or arbitration award. When any of these things happen (a settlement, jury verdict, or arbitration award), the attorney will then take a pre-set percentage of the award as his or her fee.
Some lawyers will charge a lower fee if the case resolves before filing a lawsuit. However, if you need to file a lawsuit and litigate the case to obtain what you deserve, such attorneys will raise their contingency fee to a higher percentage of the gross recovery due to the additional work involved. Other attorneys will only charge a higher contingency fee percentage if the case ultimately goes to trial, mediation or arbitration.
If your personal injury case goes to a jury trial and the jury, for whatever reason, does not award you monetary compensation, the attorney will not be entitled to recover a fee in your case.
When you are in the process of selecting a personal injury attorney to handle your case, ask him or her questions about the CFA and how/when the attorney will receive payment.
What are Litigation Expenses?
In addition to providing for attorney fees in a personal injury case, most contingency fee agreements will provide for the payment of litigation expenses. Under the terms of most CFA’s, the attorney will advance the litigation expenses on behalf of the client and then be reimbursed those expenses if the case results in a recovery by way of settlement, verdict, or arbitration award. If there is no recovery in the case, the client is not responsible for the case costs advanced and the attorney is not reimbursed.
Litigation can be a complex process, and a personal injury attorney will incur certain expenses while pursuing your matter. The lawyer may need to subpoena medical records, pay court costs, provide compensation to a process server, or retain an expert to testify in your case. Experts may need to reconstruct the accident if the insurance company is disputing fault or liability.
At other times, a medical expert may be needed to show how a particular injury resulted from the accident in question. In addition, medical expert testimony could be necessary to prove the extent of accident victim’s injuries.
As with an attorney’s fee, during a consultation your lawyer should answer any questions that you may have regarding litigation expenses and how and when these expenses will be paid.