See how slip and fall victims afford attorney fees with and without a lawsuit. Learn how fees, costs, and liens affect injury compensation.
The American justice system is supposed to represent equality and justice for all. That includes equal treatment, as well as equal access to the justice system.
In theory, any person can file a complaint with a state or federal court. If that lawsuit has merit, the person should win their case and be compensated accordingly.
In slip and fall injury cases, property owners usually get representation through their insurance companies. An insurance company lawyer, who is experienced in civil litigation, uses the process in a strategic way to make your lawsuit as difficult as possible.
So, while you technically don’t need a lawyer to file a slip and fall lawsuit, it’s often a very good idea to get one. But most slip and fall victims can’t afford to pay an attorney an hourly fee. The legal community and lawmakers have recognized and addressed this problem with contingency fee agreements.
You may have heard about contingency fees in television advertisements where a personal injury lawyer tells you, “There’s no fee unless I win.” You should know that this is not quite how contingency fee agreements work. The term “win” can mean many things, from a court verdict to a settlement. And even if you lose, you may still have to pay some costs.
This article will discuss contingency fees for attorneys in the context of slip and fall cases. Because these agreements differ from case to case, you should be able to negotiate the terms of this agreement with your slip and fall lawyer starting with a free initial consultation.
We’ll look at how these agreements usually work and what you can expect to pay your lawyer based on the status of the case. We’ll also discuss costs, how they are different from fees, and how and when you pay them. Finally, we will address liens affecting your final settlement payout.
Contingency Fee Agreements: Basic Terms
The basic idea behind legal representation on a contingency fee basis is that your lawyer gets paid according to the result that they achieve in your case. The American Bar Association (ABA) lays out the requirements for contingency fee agreements.
In virtually every case, these agreements allow you to pay your attorney a percentage of the total amount you get as a result of your personal injury claim.
1. How a Contingency Fee Works
Generally, fee agreements should be in writing, with the terms of the fee spelled out in plain language. Above all else, the lawyer’s fee must be reasonable given the type of case, the experience of attorney and the legal work actually required.
Another important term of these agreements is how your slip and fall accident lawyer is compensated based on the stage of the case when it resolves. Though an advertisement may say, “You don’t pay me unless you win,” pay attention to what counts as a “win.”
Many agreements will break down potential wins into several categories or stages of a lawsuit. They then assign a percentage fee to each stage. If your case resolves during that stage, you pay that fee.
Example Contingency Fee Agreement
You slip and fall in a puddle of water at a grocery store. As a result of your fall, you have broken bones in your hands, arms and back. You have a consultation with your lawyer, Atticus, who presents you with an contingency fee agreement. The agreement lays out the following fee structure:
- Atticus will make a claim to the grocery store’s insurance company and try to settle on your behalf. If he is successful in obtaining a settlement at this stage, his fee will be 15% of the amount paid to you by the insurance company.
- If he cannot settle with the insurance company, Atticus will file a premises liability lawsuit on your behalf in state court. Once the suit is filed, he will begin discovery, including getting medical records, taking depositions and filing motions. If the case settles at this stage before trial begins, Atticus’s fees will be 25% of that amount.
- Once trial on your slip and fall claim begins, Atticus’s fee increases to 33% of any amount you get. This amount remains the same whether you get money from a settlement or a judgment.
2. What Happens If There’s an Appeal?
If your case does go to trial and you win a jury verdict, it’s unlikely to stop there. The losing side in a personal injury case can appeal to a higher court.
If the decision is reversed, it will go back down to the trial court for another decision or possibly another trial.
Your contingency fee agreement should spell out what happens if there’s an appeal. In some cases, even an experienced slip and fall attorney won’t want to represent you for the appeal. Not all injury lawyers are willing to commit to the additional time and legal work needed to handle an appellate case.
Unless your contingency agreement clearly states the attorney will represent you in the event of an appeal, your relationship ends after the trial. Other times, your contingency fee will cover the appeal. Either way, this should be clearly spelled out in the agreement with your attorney before the representation begins.
Keep in mind that settlements cannot be appealed. Your slip and fall attorney can negotiate an “out of court” settlement with the at-fault property owner’s legal team at any time, even if trial is underway.
You Pay More Than Just Lawyer Fees
This is important: Attorney fees are not the only amount that comes out of your final settlement or jury award. There are more people and companies that have an interest in your case than just you and your lawyer.
Here are a few examples of amounts that you may have to pay in addition to your legal fees.
1. Litigation Costs
Court cases are expensive, and not just because attorneys are involved. Courts have filing fees. Lawyers have to conduct legal research and correspond on your behalf. You may also have expert witnesses who testify about your injuries at trial. None of these things are included in an attorney fee. They are known as costs, and in most cases you pay them on top of legal fees.
What’s more, if you lose your case, you may have to pay the costs of the other side. In the event you lose at the trial or appeal level, the property owner’s lawyers might ask the court to order you to pay their costs. While courts have discretion about what exactly to order in terms of costs, you should discuss this possibility with your lawyer ahead of time.
2. The Other Side’s Attorney Fees
In American courts, each side is generally responsible for its own attorney fees whether it wins or loses a court case. There are exceptions, though. For example, if a judge believes that you or your lawyer were dishonest or otherwise acted in bad faith, they may order you to pay the attorney fees for the property owner.
Again, forcing an injured person to pay a property owner’s legal fees is a rare sanction. Still, it’s a possibility that you should discuss with your lawyer before the representation begins. Both you and your lawyer should be in complete agreement, preferably in writing, about how to handle this situation if it arises.
Another common amount paid on top of attorney fees is liens. Your health insurance company, for example, may have paid out significant amounts of money for medical treatment. If you recover money from the property owner and/or their insurance company, your insurer will likely want to be repaid the money it paid for your medical bills.
Your attorney has an obligation to account for all medical liens against a potential settlement amount. ABA Model Rule 1.15, subsection (d), requires that a lawyer “promptly” deliver amounts lawfully claimed by a third party from received funds.
You should note that Rule 1.15 is not limited just to medical expenses. Settlement funds received could also be subject to lien from other judgments, child support or spousal support. Again, your attorney is ethically obligated to consider these amounts. You, in turn, must be as honest as you can be with your attorney before a situation arises.
Know Your Agreement
Attorney fee agreements are complicated. In every case, you and any affected family members should take plenty of time to read the agreement, ask questions and get advice on any subject about which you have questions. If you are being represented and run into a problem you have not yet discussed, it’s too late. An experienced attorney should welcome these questions.
If you or a loved one has suffered an injury from a slip and fall accident, you should act sooner rather than later. Contact a qualified personal injury attorney or law firm in your state for a free consultation and case evaluation.
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