Personal Injury Attorney Fees and Costs
Most personal injury attorneys will charge a “contingency fee,” which means the attorney will get a percentage of the amount for which the case settles. In Florida, that fee is 33 1/3 % for cases that settle prior to any lawsuit, and 40% for cases after a lawsuit is filed. There are many benefits to contingency fees to clients, and the most obvious is that the client does not have to pay the attorney any money up front. In other areas of the law like family law or criminal law, attorneys will typically charge $200-$500/hour and will require an up-front retainer of thousands of dollars. In personal injury cases, the attorney gets paid at the end, so there’s no need to pay thousands of dollars at the beginning. Further, because the attorney gets more money in fees the higher the settlement amount, regardless of what you think about your attorney or even attorneys in general, you can be confident that your attorney wants to maximize the amount of the settlement, as it will increase the amount the attorney receives as a fee.
I often tell clients that contingency fees are good because the more I get my client, the more I get, so we are on the same team and will always have the same goal. Moreover, if the case doesn’t settle or if you lose, you owe the attorney nothing.
Again, this is very different than other areas of the law like criminal law. If you have to hire an attorney for a criminal charge, you pay the attorney up front and even if you lose in court and end up in jail, the attorney gets paid regardless. Personal injury attorneys only get paid if and when the case settles.
Separate from fees are what we call costs. Costs might include things such as fees to file a lawsuit, costs to obtain medical records and police reports, fees for depositions, etc. These are things the attorney pays on the behalf of the client, and if the case settles, the attorney has the right to get repaid for these costs out of the settlement funds in addition to the 33 1/3% or 40% fee.
Of course every case is different, and sometimes circumstances lead to unfair results with contingency fees. For example, if a person goes to the hospital and has a $5,000 hospital bill balance and there is only a $10,000 insurance policy, the attorney fee of 33% would be $3,333.33, and the hospital bill is $5,000.00, so that would only leave $1,666.66 for the client. Understandably, clients don’t appreciate that the attorney makes twice what the client makes in this scenario, so as a rule, I never take more than the client. I will always reduce my fee to make sure the client gets more than me, even if that means I have to reduce my fee below 33%. As I said in the beginning, I want clients to feel like we are part of a team as we go through this process, so I would never want a client thinking I received an unfair amount at the end of a case.