In the 35 years I have been practicing personal injury law in Vermont, the questions I hear most frequently are:

  • Is my injury case worth pursuing?
  • What will it cost?
  • What are the pros and cons of suing?
  • What is my injury case worth?
  • Does it ever make sense to negotiate on my own and avoid attorney fees?

The first question was answered in a prior post which can be reviewed at this link. Here are my insights on the second question.

What will it cost to sue for my personal injury?

The fee arrangement and cost of a personal injury lawsuit are crucial factors for an injured person who is seeking to be made whole following an injury. The financial terms of your engagement of a lawyer may impact both your ability to hire a lawyer and your ultimate financial recovery. Most lawyers can be hired on an hourly basis. They usually expect an initial “retainer” for their services and expect to be paid monthly for their time and costs. Unfortunately, most personal injury clients cannot afford these costs. For this reason, the vast majority of personal injury cases are handled on a “contingent fee” basis.

How a Contingency Fee Arrangement Works

Under this approach, the client will pay the lawyer a percentage of the ultimate recovery. The “contingency” component is that, if the lawyer achieves a substantial win for the client in the case, he or she shares in the winnings. If the case doesn’t go well, the lawyer is paid a share of the smaller amount. For example, one of the most common “contingent fee” arrangement calls for reimbursing any “out-of-pocket” expenses the lawyer incurs and then dividing the balancing of the recovery one-third to the lawyer and two-thirds to the client. Out-of-pocket expenses include hard costs that the lawyer incurs in the process of building the case, such as outside investigator fees, records request fees, FedEx fees, document filing fees, etc.

Contingent fee arrangements vary from lawyer to lawyer and case to case. Some lawyers ask for a higher percentage in cases involving greater risk, and will occasionally accept a lower percentage fee in cases involving less risk. Some lawyers expect the client to pay any out-of-pocket costs on an ongoing basis. Other lawyers, typically more experienced lawyers, are willing to wait for reimbursement for out-of-pocket costs until the end of the case. In serious and complex cases, such as cases involving brain injury, spinal cord injury, or wrongful death, these costs can be in the tens of thousands of dollars, which can make these payment terms particularly important.

Whatever the circumstances, the contingent fee arrangement should be openly discussed and reviewed, and the terms of any personal injury contingent fee arrangement should be clearly set forth in a written agreement signed by both the client and the lawyer.

In my next post, I’ll help the injured person evaluate whether to sue or not—stay tuned!