While most people know the term, “personal injury attorney,” they often have little to no idea about how personal injury lawyers work. How do I pay them? Do I have to file a lawsuit? Are they really ambulance chasers? [No, to that last one!] In my line of work, I hear these questions all the time. So I thought I’d put together a quick little information sheet to help answer the two most common questions I hear when working with clients who have been injured by someone else’s negligence.
1. How much does it cost to get a lawyer? Do I have to pay the attorney?
This is the top question I receive. Of course it is! You’re injured, potentially out of work and in need of ongoing medical treatment, so it makes sense that you’re worried about money.
In most personal injury cases, a lawyer will work for what is called a “contingent fee.” This means that she gets paid, if, and only if, you receive compensation for your injury. The average contingent fee ranges between 33.3 – 40% gross. What makes the fee higher or lower often depends on the amount of work it will take for the attorney to handle your case. Cases with multiple parties, catastrophic injuries, etc. can sometimes take 1 to 2 years to complete. For the attorney taking your case, that means they are working without pay for that entire time. They’re taking a risk, just like you are.
2. I’m not the kind of person who files a lawsuit – do I have to?
No. Most people think they should only hire an attorney if they intend on suing in court. In fact, there’s one step BEFORE suing a negligent party that is often faster than filing a lawsuit – filing a claim with the negligent party’s insurance company.
As an attorney, in the majority of my cases, I try to settle with an insurance company first. Filing a claim with an insurance company is similar to filing a lawsuit in the sense that we gather all the relevant facts, medical records, and evidence, and then present our case to the insurance company representative. We will issue a “demand,” or a monetary amount that my client and I feel will adequately compensate them for their injury. The insurance agent can negotiate a settlement if they feel there is liability on their insured. Sometimes, they don’t agree and/or they try to settle for a low amount. At that point, my client and I would meet to discuss our next move. Sometimes, that means moving forward to file a lawsuit.
Here’s a word of advice – hire an attorney even if you’re just filing a claim! I’ve had clients who were offered $1,000 to settle their claim for a rear-end motor vehicle accident at a stop sign. I worked with that client through the litigation process and she recovered $15,000. That’s 15 times what the insurance company offered!
We are trained to know the value of your case, to recognize the potential pitfalls, and to push back when a claim adjuster is trying to lowball a case. By retaining a lawyer, you are sending the message that you mean business. Often, that is just what it takes to get you what you deserve.
Each case is unique, so fees and litigation strategy may vary. Come in for a free consultation if you’d like to see how we can help. We’d be happy to walk you through the process and answer your questions.