When you suffer from injuries, whether from a vehicle accident, dog bite, a workplace accident, or another type of personal injury accident, the last thing you want to have to worry about, on top of all your other unexpected expenses, is attorneys’ fees and costs. You are already out of work and wondering how you are going to provide for your family. Instead of worrying about hiring an attorney to help you recover the compensation you deserve, a personal injury attorney often takes cases on a contingency basis.
How Does Contingency Basis Work?
When a personal injury attorney takes your case on a contingency basis, as most do, that means that whether you are obligated to pay them attorneys’ fees depends upon whether the attorney succeeds in obtaining the compensation for you.
The attorney agrees to collect as his fee a fixed percentage of what you win in your case. They may also deduct certain costs from your compensation award. If you lose, the attorney does not get paid—but neither do you. Whether you win or lose, you will most likely have to pay costs, such as filing fees for filing your case with a court, investigation fees, deposition fees, and other fees the attorney might initially cover for you. When you sign a contingency agreement, be sure to read it carefully so that you know what you might have to pay if the attorney loses.
When an Attorney Collects Contingency Fees
Even once the attorney obtains a fair and reasonable settlement that you agree to, or succeeds at arguing in court and obtaining a court award of damages, it takes at least a few days to get paid. A settlement agreement or court order will indicate how long the defendant has to pay. It is often five to ten days.
Once the defendant signs the agreement, the defendant must forward the signed agreement along with a check to your attorney. Your attorney then deposits it in his or her IOLTA account, a special trust account they must maintain by law. Your attorney then deducts fees and costs, and in many cases, pays any outstanding medical bills.
Once the attorney pays your medical bills and deducts their fees and costs, they write you a check for what’s left. If the attorney does not pay your medical expenses out of your settlement or judgment, you must pay those medical expenses after you receive your settlement check.
How Much Is My Case Worth?
The amount you could recover depends on the injuries you suffer. Minor damages may not win you a large payment, as your expenses and impacts are less. You may recover two types of compensatory damages, and potentially punitive damages.
Sometimes called special damages, economic damages are a type of compensatory damages. They have a set monetary value. The court orders compensatory economic damages in an attempt to make you whole again.
Economic damages include:
- Past medical expenses for those incurred because of the accident and before a settlement or trial award.
- Future medical expenses for those incurred because of the accident and after a settlement or trial award.
- Past lost wages for those lost from the time of the accident up until a settlement or trial award.
- Future lost wages for those lost because of injuries in an accident and incurred after a settlement or trial award. You could also collect partial future lost wages if your injuries cause long-term or permanent disabilities that prevent you from working for your previous income, but you can still perform some work for less pay.
- Replacement or repair of destroyed or damaged personal property.
- Funeral, burial, or cremation expenses if you lost a loved one in an accident.
Sometimes called general damages, non-economic damages are also compensatory damages.
They do not have a set monetary value and include:
- Pain and suffering and emotional distress for those injured in an accident.
- Emotional distress for those who lost a loved one in an accident.
- Loss of quality of life.
- Loss of companionship if you can no longer enjoy activities and events with your family.
- Loss of consortium if you can no longer have a physical relationship with your spouse.
- Inconvenience if you have to hire someone to do the chores you normally do, including grocery shopping, lawn maintenance, and home maintenance and repair.
- Amputation, whether caused directly by the accident or later out of medical necessity due to the severity of the injuries.
- Excessive scarring and disfigurement.
Punitive damages are rare. To recover punitive damages, you must show that the defendant’s actions or inactions were grossly negligent or intentional. The court only orders punitive damages to punish the defendant for such egregious conduct in the hopes that the defendant will learn and will not repeat those actions or inactions, and to deter others from such conduct.
In cases where punitive damages are warranted, the state is often simultaneously prosecuting the defendant in criminal court. This does not affect your case, other than to support your argument that the defendant’s conduct was grossly negligent, thus entitling you to punitive damages.
You can always ask your attorney about punitive damages. Asking for punitive damages might mean additional investigation into your case, and your attorney can gauge whether an additional investigation will provide the evidence necessary to establish a basis for punitive damages. A request for punitive damages bifurcates a trial, the first part for determining liability, and the second part determining damages.
A bifurcated trial may mean the attorney will incur greater costs, so you may need to pay a larger percentage of any compensation your lawyer recovers for you. However, the amount of punitive damages you could recover may make those costs worthwhile.