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In a wrongful death suit, survivors seek compensation after a loved one dies because of another person's or entity's actions. Claims include lost wages and companionship, as well as medical and funeral expenses. Almost all wrongful death suits are handled on a contingency basis instead of an hourly or flat rate fee structure. In addition to your lawyer's fees, you are also liable for costs the attorney incurs during your case.
What are Contingency Fees?
Lawyers who handle cases on contingency do not charge retainers or hourly fees for their services. Instead, they take a percentage of either the award amount or settlement when you win your case. If you do not win your case, you do not owe the lawyer anything but costs. The percentage contingency lawyers charge varies by state, but one-third, or 33 percent, is the most common rate. This means that one-third of any amount awarded goes to the attorney.
Wrongful death attorneys may also charge a different percentage based on whether the case is settled out of court or goes to trial and faces appeal. Discuss this with the attorney during your initial consultation to ensure you understand exactly what charges you face regarding contingency fees.
As contingency attorneys receive no payment for their services if their client loses their case, they exercise a great deal of caution when deciding which cases they'll handle. The benefit for you is that, with their payment depending on the settlement or award amount, the motivation to secure a large settlement is high. The benefit for the attorney is that contingency fees are typically much higher than the amount they'd receive if paid hourly.
What is the Difference between Fees and Costs?
Many people are confused by this, especially when it comes time to pay the bill and their attorney presents them with a bill for costs after receiving their contingency fee. When referring to the overall price of a lawsuit, fees and costs mean two different things. Fees are what you pay your attorney for his or her time. This is the agreed-upon contingency fee, the percentage of your settlement or award.
Costs are the expenses your lawyer incurs while handling your case. A variety of expenses fall into the cost category. Your attorney charges you for items such as copies, depositions, court fees, and expert witnesses. These can add up quickly, especially in a wrongful death case, where $100,000 in costs is not unheard of. It is important that you ask the attorney, before hiring him or her, what kinds of costs you can expect.
As stated earlier, you are not responsible for paying the lawyer's fees if you lose your case. You are, however, required to pay costs, though some attorneys waive these fees. Ask the attorney what costs you can expect to see if you win, and what costs you can expect in the event you lose your case.
How to Prepare for Your Consultation
Don't go into your initial consultation without a list of questions for the attorney, as well as a written account of the facts and any documentation pertaining to your wrongful death claim. This is the time to discuss fees and costs as well as the merits of your case and time is limited. Preparing beforehand makes best use of this time. Questions you should ask include:
- What is your contingency rate? How does this vary if the case goes to trial?
- What costs can I expect to be charged for?
- What are the costs if I win? What are the costs if I lose?
- What is my case worth if it settles? What is my case worth if it goes to trial?
- How will you handle my case?
- How often will I receive updates?
- Pay close attention to the attorney's answers and write them all down. You will almost definitely forget something later and if you consult more than one attorney, you'll want to compare answers.
Schedule a Free Consultation
Damages awarded in a wrongful death case can add up quickly, since lifetime lost wages are generally included. Getting the assistance of an experienced wrongful death attorney is vital. Take advantage of the free consultation offered by most attorneys to interview a number of lawyers until you find the right lawyer to handle your case. Come prepared and pay close attention to the attorney's questions and advice.