After a bad car crash or similar incident, many people hesitate to contact a lawyer because they assume they’ll have to pay a huge fee. Not so. Most personal injury lawyers use a contingency fee arrangement.
What is a contingency fee?
Contingency means “a future event or circumstance which is possible but cannot be predicted with certainty.” That’s the dictionary definition.
For personal injury lawyers, working on “contingency” means you don’t pay a fee unless you get a settlement. In other words, the lawyer only gets paid if you get paid. If you don’t, you owe the lawyer nothing.
How much is a contingency fee?
Personal injury lawyers typically charge one-third of the settlement amount. If you receive a settlement for $100,000, the lawyer receives about $33,333 and you receive $66,666.
The fine print regarding contingency fees varies depending on the lawyer. Some may deduct costs such as filing fees and expert witness fees from the final settlement amount, on top of attorney’s fees. Read your contract to determine who covers costs and when.
Others may charge on a sliding scale. For example:
• 25% if they settle the case without filing a lawsuit.
• 33% if they settle the case with filing a lawsuit but without going to trial.
• 40% if the case goes to trial.
What are the advantages of a contingency fee?
Most people either can’t or don’t want to pay thousands of dollars in upfront retainer fees to hire an attorney. If you win, you pay and if you lose, you still pay.
With a contingency fee agreement, you don’t have to pay anything for the lawyer to start working on your case. And if it’s not successful, you’re not stuck with a huge bill.
When a lawyer takes your case on contingency, you can also feel confident you have a good case. A lawyer wouldn’t take your case without reasonable belief he will succeed.
Can I negotiate contingency fees?
Of course. If you come to your initial meeting well-prepared, your lawyer may be more willing to negotiate. If you’re physically able, make sure to document the accident with photos, file a police report, keep a record of all medical treatment and provide complete insurance information. The more organized your records, the better.
If not already specified in the contract, you can also propose a sliding scale depending on when the case settles. Another similar option is to propose a reduced fee for a specific settlement amount and a higher fee if the settlement exceeds a certain amount.
If you’ve been injured in an auto, bike, pedestrian or some other accident, don’t worry about whether you can afford a personal injury lawyer. Most of us work on contingency and offer free consultations.