Once your personal injury claim has been settled, your lawyer will receive a settlement check on your behalf — but what proportion will be retained and how much will you end up with?
That’s an important question for most accident victims looking to hire a lawyer and wondering how much it will cost.
Unfortunately, few personal injury cases are as straightforward as they first appear. Many take longer than expected and fair settlements with insurance companies are only possible after months of wrangling, the threat of litigation, and/or considerable efforts from your personal injury lawyer.
So, when all is said and done, how much does your lawyer take for their services from a settlement check?
What percentage will my attorney get?
You should have a clear indication of how much your personal injury lawyer will charge before you sign a written contract and engage them to represent you.
The amount may ultimately depend on the experience level of your lawyer. For their work on the case, they usually take a percentage of the final settlement account, plus an amount to cover court costs and any associated fees (more about these below).
Typically, this is around one-third of the settlement amount. A $100,000 settlement for serious car accident injuries, for example, could mean a $33,333 payment to the lawyer and a $66,667 payment (minus costs) for the plaintiff.
This arrangement ensures a “win-win” for the plaintiff and the attorney: the payout should cover medical bills, pain and suffering and other losses suffered by the victim while the lawyer’s hard work on the case is suitably rewarded.
What is a contingency fee?
Most personal injury lawyers in the U.S. work on a contingency fee basis. This means they get paid according to a fixed fee or percentage only if they win compensation for an accident victim. Some people call it “no win no fee”.
The contingency fee is usually stated in the written agreement between the law firm and the client and deducted from the final amount awarded to the victim either in a settlement agreement with the insurance company or by the court.
Built into the percentage charged is the risk of being paid nothing for their work in some cases.
However, generally speaking, personal injury attorneys are adept at judging their chances of winning compensation and are necessarily selective about the cases they take on.
If your case is unlikely to result in anything but a small payout or there is a high risk of losing the case, you are less likely to find a lawyer who will take the “gamble” of working on a contingency basis.
It can be challenging to estimate how much the contingency fee may amount to in real terms, which is why a percentage of the recovery amount is normally quoted.
Who pays costs and expenses in personal injury cases?
In most cases, your lawyer will cover any costs and expenses that come up during the case and these will be deducted from the final amount awarded at the end.
Costs and expenses during complex and drawn-out cases can mount up and it helps to have your lawyer handle these at the time. They may include the following expenses:
- Costs associated with obtaining medical records
- Costs associated with obtaining police reports
- Expert witness fees
- Filing fees at the court
- Postage fees
- Costs associated with private investigators or experts
- Deposition costs
- Transcript costs
- Trial exhibit costs
Remember, these costs will eventually be reimbursed to your lawyer from the final settlement. They can total anywhere up to 10–25 percent of the overall settlement amount.
In the previous example of a $100,000 settlement, if it was a complicated case that took considerable time to settle and required the testimony of expert witnesses, after deducing the legal fees, your lawyer might need to deduct another $15,000-$25,000 for fees and extra costs.
How much should I expect from a settlement?
Putting a precise figure on your personal injury settlement is not possible without knowing the details of your claim.
However, once your personal injury lawyer knows the main details, you can expect a rough estimate of the value of your claim based on previous cases of a similar nature.
In Florida, you can claim the following (uncapped) compensation in personal injury cases:
- Medical expenses
- Loss of wages
- Future lost earnings
- Property damage
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of companionship
- Reduction in quality of life
In some cases, punitive damages can be sought. However, these are only recoverable where serious wrongdoing or egregious behavior is attached to the personal injury complaint. These damages are capped at $500,000 in Florida.
How long can a lawyer hold a settlement check?
After a final settlement has been reached in a personal injury case, a check is usually sent on the record to the plaintiff’s lawyer. The money will be held in escrow or trust until it is cleared by the banks (3-10 business days or more) before it can be released.
After the amount has been cleared by the bank, the attorney fees and costs will be deducted by the lawyer before you receive the final check.
Hire an experienced personal injury lawyer to maximize your claim
It will cost you a chunk of the settlement check to hire a personal injury lawyer but you can still claim considerably more with legal representation than you would by going it alone.
Say the insurance company offered you a $10,000 settlement for your claim immediately after your slip and fall accident and you accepted. It covered your medical costs and the costs of fixing your car.
A personal injury lawyer might take one-third of a final settlement but if that settlement was for $50,000 (including pain and suffering, loss of earnings and so on), you can still come out of the deal almost three times better off even after paying expenses.
Personal injury lawyers will fight for the maximum compensation and use their experience in previous cases to estimate exactly how much that should be.
By hiring an attorney, you increase your chances of getting a higher settlement offer. So, if you have been in an accident that was the fault of a negligent or reckless party, you should not sign any paperwork before speaking to a lawyer.
Start by calling 866-233-4529 for a free case evaluation with a lawyer from Gerber Law in Sarasota. If you are injured, we will come to the medical facility or your home for the initial consultation.