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Car accidents are an everyday part of life that typically do not require the intervention of an attorney. However, some car accidents are more complex, more involved than your average fender bender. If you were in an accident with a fatality, or serious injury, hiring an experienced vehicular accident attorney may be in order. The attorney's job is to ensure you receive fair compensation for losses incurred during the accident, including medical bills, repairs, and lost income.
Understanding what and how the attorney charges, and what he or she does to earn those fees, helps you decide if this is the right step for you. Attorneys who handle vehicle accident cases typically charge one of two ways: contingency or hourly.
Contingency Fee Attorneys
When your lawyer works on contingency, he or she agrees to represent you with the understanding that, if you do not win your case, you do not pay the attorney's fee. This fee is calculated as a percentage of the total amount won, through either settlement or jury award. Amounts vary by jurisdiction, but 30 percent is common. This pay structure is an advantage for you, as you pay nothing until and unless you win. Additionally, with the fee contingent on the amount awarded for your case, your attorney has built-in motivation to get you the largest settlement possible.
It also benefits your attorney, as he or she usually receives a larger fee than they would in an hourly pay structure. Of course, the attorney is gambling that you will win your case. For this reason, lawyers who agree to work on contingency are highly selective in choosing which cases to represent.
This fee is different from the costs incurred in handling your case (discussed below). These charges are separate and payable whether you win or lose. Some lawyers calculate their contingency rate as a percentage of the net award, the amount left after deducting costs, while others base it on the gross award, the amount before deducting costs. You should negotiate for a net settlement contingency rate if possible.
Hourly Fee Attorneys
Some lawyers work on an hourly fee structure, with a set hourly rate between $100 and $300 per hour, with larger firms typically charging higher rates. Clients usually pay a retainer upon hiring a lawyer and then make monthly payments as the case progresses. With hourly attorneys, you pay the fee whether you win your case or not.
Contingency is by far the most common fee structure for vehicle accident attorneys, in part because their potential compensation is so much greater. If a lawyer offers to represent you but wants to charge you an hourly rate, it is likely he or she thinks you do not have a strong case. Get more than one opinion, of course, but if each lawyer you meet offers an hourly rate, think carefully about whether hiring an attorney to represent you is the best choice.
The Difference Between Fees and Costs
Fees are what you pay your attorney for the time he or she devotes to handling your case. Costs are the expenses your attorney incurrs while handling your case. Common costs include court fees, expert witness fees, and obtaining medical records. You are responsible for these costs whether you win or lose your case. Some attorneys require clients pay costs as they are incurred, whereas others present a bill for costs once the case concludes. Before hiring an attorney, discuss costs, how they bill for them, and what types of costs you can expect.
Schedule a Free Consultation
If you sustained significant injuries or damages in a vehicle accident, you probably want to hire an attorney to represent you when negotiating with the insurance companies. Most accident attorneys offer a free initial consultation to discuss your case, explain their fees and costs, and ascertain the strength of your suit. Your time during this initial consultation is limited, so come prepared. Bring a list of questions and a pad of paper to record the attorney's answers to refer to when making your decision. Questions to include are:
- Do you work on contingency? If so, what is your rate? Is this net or gross?
- If offered an hourly rate, ask if he or she represents other clients on contingency. If the answer is yes, then ask why you weren't offered contingency representation.
- What costs am I responsible for if I win?
- What costs am I responsible for if I lose?
- How much do you believe my case is worth?