Hiring an attorney to handle a personal injury claim in California can help victims make sure insurance companies and defendants do not take advantage of them. It can also improve the odds of obtaining maximum compensation for medical bills, property damage, lost wages, and pain and suffering. Many accident victims hesitate to hire attorneys, however, because of the fear of attorney’s fees. Luckily, most personal injury attorneys in San Diego and throughout California make their services affordable to everyone by operating on a contingency-fee basis.
What Does Contingency-Fee Basis Mean?
After a personal injury accident, the search for an attorney may come up with several firms offering services on a contingency-fee basis. This means attorney fees are contingent upon the attorney winning the case. In other words, an attorney will not charge anything to represent a client until and unless the firm obtains a financial award for the client. The point of this fee type is to give every victim of negligence equal opportunity to benefit from hiring a lawyer, without having to front the expense of attorney’s fees.
The goal of contingent fees is to give everyone the option of having an attorney during a personal injury case. With this type of legal fee, the client pays zero up-front costs and will never have to pay attorney’s fees for a case that does not result in financial compensation. It also encourages the attorney to try his or her best to obtain a recovery; otherwise, the attorney will not receive any payment for work done or time spent on the case.
In a contingent-fee arrangement, if your lawyer wins your case, you will have to pay your lawyer a fee you both agreed upon prior to beginning the attorney-client relationship. The agreed-upon percentage will come directly out of your settlement or judgment award, not out of your pocket. This way, a victim can always afford to hire a lawyer, since the lawyer will never take more than the value of the case in service fees. It is a fair fee arrangement that helps make retaining an attorney possible for accident victims.
The Typical Contingency-Fee Percentage
A contingency-fee arrangement at a personal injury firm involves the attorney agreeing to take a fixed percentage of the settlement or verdict recovered on behalf of the client in exchange for services. The client will agree in writing to the lawyer’s terms and fee schedule before retaining the attorney for representation. Although it may be possible to negotiate the percentage of the fee down in special cases, most attorneys stick to a set fee schedule.
The average percentage of winnings a personal injury attorney will get in California is 33.33%, or one third of the recovery. This would mean if a client receives a $120,000 settlement offer from the defendant, the attorney would receive $40,000. However, the percentage can vary from case to case. Most lawyers will keep their rates from 30 to 40%. A particularly complex case or a case that goes to trial may have higher attorney fees.
Beware of an attorney with fees that are ultra-low; this could be a sign of an inexperienced or low-quality law firm trying to build its client list. Most personal injury lawyers will front all the costs of handling a case during the case’s progression. This can include processing fees, court costs, filing fees, expert witness fees, depositions, and investigator costs. Then, if they win the case, they will pay the expenses of the case out of your settlement or verdict, in addition to the percentage charged for services.
The farther a case goes along the legal process, the more expensive attorney’s fees are likely to become. With filing fees and other court costs, an attorney may end up with 40 to 60% of an award. The amount they obtain for clients, however, is often still more than the client could have received without representation.