In New York State, residents are used to seeing television commercials by lawyers promising to take on personal injury cases for free and only charge you if they win the case. It sounds like a great deal, but it is important to read the fine print on any of those types of offers and understand the real costs in filing a personal injury claim.
The arrangements you see on television are referred to as contingency arrangements. The lawyer only gets paid for their time if they win the case for you. On average, a contingency case would require you to give up around 33 percent of your compensation. It still sounds like a great deal until you realize that the contingency fee arrangement does not cover expenses.
Digging Deeper Into Contingency Fees
Each personal injury law firm handles these situations differently, so it is a good idea for you to talk to several firms before you decide which one to work with. The 33 percent contingency fee covers the lawyer’s time and allows the case to get started without you having to pay anything up front, but it often does not cover expenses.
Expenses include court filing fees, expert testimony, and expenses associated with any travel the attorney has to do for your case. Before the attorney takes their 33 percent contingency fee, they will deduct their expenses from your settlement. If your settlement is $5,000.00 and the attorney has $1,000.00 in expenses, then the $1,000.00 gets subtracted from the $5,000.00 and the 33 percent comes out of the remaining $4,000.00. The contingency fee would be around $1,300.00, which leaves you $2,700.00.
It still sounds like a good deal, but what if the attorney does not get you any compensation? With some firms, you might be billed for the $1,000.00 and expected to pay it. This is why you should always be sure to get all of the fees the attorney is going to charge in writing before the case begins.
If your case is small, maybe a $1,000.00 settlement or less, and you feel you deserve more then you might be better off taking the insurance company to small claims court on your own. With smaller cases, you might wind up in debt to your attorney even if you win because of expenses and attorney fees.
What if the insurance company offers you a large settlement, but you feel it should be more? At this point you have to decide if attorney’s expenses and fees are worth trying to take the insurance company to court. In the end, you could win but still wind up with considerably less than the original settlement. Sometimes it is best to look at a situation objectively and do the math to decide whether or not you should hire a lawyer.
In most cases, even with a contingency fee agreement, there is going to be some sort of cost associated with your personal injury claim. When you talk to personal injury lawyers about your case, you need to get all of their fees in writing and then decide whether or not hiring a lawyer is the best path for you to take.