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How Much Do Car Accident Lawyers Cost?

Offered by Mani Ellis & Layne, PLLC

When you’re hurt in a car accident, undergoing medical treatment, out of work, and dealing with an insurance company, the last thing you need is a bill from an attorney.

Attorneys who represent injured people understand this. We know that most people in this situation can’t pay a lawyer out of pocket. That’s why the law allows a unique fee arrangement for these types of cases.

The vast majority of personal injury cases are handled on a contingency fee basis.

What is a contingency fee?

A contingency fee, or contingent fee, is an arrangement in which your lawyer only gets paid if there is a favorable outcome. Rather than charging an hourly fee or retainer, the attorney agrees to accept an agreed-upon percentage of your recovery – whether that’s a negotiated settlement or a jury verdict.

Contingency fees are not allowed in all areas of law; they only make sense in cases where money is being claimed. They are most commonly used in personal injury, workers’ compensation, wrongful death, disability and similar matters, as well as some types of employment law cases.

In addition to allowing you to hire a lawyer regardless of your ability to pay, contingency fees also align your interests with your attorney’s interests. Your lawyer only gets paid if they win your case. That means they have every incentive to put in the work to get a favorable outcome.

You may see contingency fees advertised with taglines like “no fee unless you win” or “no recovery, no fee.” That might sound too good to be true, but it really is how a contingency fee works.

What are litigation costs?

In addition to the attorney’s fee, there are various costs involved in moving a personal injury case forward. For instance, taking a deposition requires the attorney to hire a court reporter and pay for a transcript. Hiring expert witnesses to provide testimony in support of your case may cost thousands of dollars. Even incidental costs like copying, postage, and obtaining records can add up in a case involving many documents. These costs are usually also paid out of your recovery if you win your case.

How much is a contingency fee?

The industry standard for most personal injury matters, including car accidents, is 33 to 40 percent. Where you fall in that range depends on both the law firm you choose and the complexity of your case. If your matter settles relatively quickly through negotiation with the insurance company, your fee is likely to be closer to 33%, sometimes even a little below. If your attorney has to file a lawsuit, the percentage usually increases.

When you speak with an attorney in a free consultation, the attorney should clearly spell out their fees, including any sliding scale that can affect the percentage, in a written fee agreement. This agreement should explain the services that will be offered, outline who is responsible for litigation costs, and specify whether the contingency fee will be calculated before or after those costs.

Beware of attorneys who offer a discount on the contingency fee percentage

Again, the industry standard for most personal injury matters is about one-third of the recovery. However, some lawyers try to undercut the market by charging lower fees, as low as 25%. This may seem like an attractive offer. Who wouldn’t want to keep more of their settlement?

The problem is, as with so many things in life, you get what you pay for. An attorney who charges a lower fee can’t afford to put as much time and effort into your case as an attorney who charges the industry standard fee. Discount attorneys depend on case volume, which means they put fewer resources into each case. That means a less thorough investigation and a less robust case. You’re likely to end up keeping a higher percentage of a lower number, which means less money in your pocket at the end of the day.

Some of the particular issues with discount car accident lawyers include:

  • They may not handle the property damage portion of your claim. Most car accident attorneys will handle claims for vehicle damage as a courtesy for their injured clients, but the discount lawyers often do not – and no other attorney will take your claim for property damage by itself. That could leave you struggling to find money to repair or replace your vehicle.
  • They may not negotiate with your hospitals and medical providers to lower your medical expenses. Remember, the goal in a car accident lawsuit isn’t just to maximize the topline number; it’s to maximize the amount of money you keep. A good lawyer will work to lessen your costs and can often get your doctors to accept a lower amount so that you can keep more.
  • They may be more averse to risk. The point of a contingency fee is to cover the risk an attorney takes in advancing the time and costs of litigation with no guarantee of results. An attorney who charges a lower fee is also less willing and able to take those risks, which means the pressure is on to settle the case sooner – and often for less money.
  • They often have less experience and a spotty track record of results. If a lawyer has to compete with other lawyers on price, there’s probably a reason they can’t compete on quality.

Remember, your choice of an attorney is critical because you only get one shot at full compensation after a car accident. Once you accept the insurance company’s money, that’s it. You can’t go back for more, even if your expenses turn out to be higher than you thought. The danger of hiring a discount lawyer is that you may end up accepting a smaller settlement so that the attorney can just move on to the next case.

Be mindful of the cost of not hiring a lawyer

You might be tempted to try to handle your case on your own – after all, then you’ll be able to keep 100% of what you recover. The problem is that the amount you recover will likely be much less than what you would have gotten with legal representation. Experienced car accident attorneys understand the process and have the resources needed to level the playing field with the insurance company. Without a lawyer on your side, you are at a significant disadvantage against the insurance company and their lawyers.

The insurance industry’s own data reflects that people who hire an attorney recover significantly more than those who don’t, even taking attorney’s fees into account. In fact, even people who just talk to a lawyer about their options recover more on average than those who go it completely alone.

There’s no cost for an initial consultation and no obligation to hire, so it is absolutely in your interest to talk to an attorney if you’ve been injured in a car accident. During your free consultation, you’ll be able to discuss the strength and value of your case as well as the attorney’s fee arrangement and any other questions you may have. Don’t delay. Talk to an experienced car accident lawyer in your area today.

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