Most attorneys charge clients a fee based on the time spent in prosecuting the claim at an hourly rate. The hourly rate can vary from $200 an hour to $500 an hour, or more, depending on the complexities of the case and the expertise of the attorney.
That is not the way the fee for a personal injury attorney is calculated. Instead of charging an hourly rated fee, plaintiff’s lawyers charge a contingency fee. The vast majority of clients who have been involved in an accident and have received injuries as a result thereof, cannot afford to pay an attorney an hourly rate and all expenses up front prior to receiving compensation for their injuries.
The contingency fee has often been described as the “POOR MAN’S KEY TO THE COURTHOUSE.” When you hire a personal injury attorney, there is no fee or cost to be paid by the client to the attorney until such time as the CONTINGENCY has been met. The contingency is that the client pays nothing in terms of fees or costs until a recovery has been made compensating the client for economic damages, i.e., medical bills, lost wages, etc., and non-economic damages, i.e., pain and suffering as a result of the injuries. If the contingency is not met, i.e., no recovery for economic and/or non-economic losses sustained by the client, the client owes nothing to the attorney for fees and costs.
However, if there is a recovery and the client is compensated for the injuries and losses as a result thereof, then the contingency has been met and the fee and costs are due the attorney when the settlement proceeds are distributed.
The contingency fee agreement in a personal injury matter provides that if the matter has been successfully concluded, then the plaintiff’s attorney is to receive a portion of the recovery as his fee, plus whatever costs were incurred by the attorney in the prosecution of the claim. Basic contingency fee agreement is the same for all lawyers in Florida. The maximum that the Florida Supreme Court will allow a personal injury attorney to charge is as follows. If the case is resolved to the client’s satisfaction without the necessity of filing a lawsuit, then the fee is one-third (1/3) of the recovery. However, if the injury attorney has to file a lawsuit or a demand for appointment of arbitrators, then the fee is increased to forty percent (40%) once the answer to the complaint is filed by the defense or demand for the appointment of arbitrators is made by the defense. The forty percent (40%) recovery remains the same whether the matter is settled shortly thereafter or if it takes an extended period of time to achieve a recovery, i.e., the contingency.
Many people believe that the fee does not go from the one-third to forty percent unless the case goes to trial. That is incorrect. Again, it goes to forty percent (40%) once a lawsuit or the arbitration claim has been answered by the defense.
The only additional fee that might be charged in a personal injury case is if the judgment matter is appealed by either side after the entry of a judgment concerning the issues. Very few cases are appealed by either side once a judgment has been entered. As a matter of fact, most cases are not tried in the first place, but are amicably resolved between the parties prior to a trial.
Because of the contingency fee agreement, the injured party can retain a qualified, experienced and successful attorney to represent them because the fee is the same no matter who the injured party retains to represent them.
Again, if the contingency of financial recovery is not met, then the attorney is owed nothing for fees and costs. However, if the contingency is achieved, the applicable percentage of the recovery is paid to the attorney as his fee, plus all costs incurred by the attorney.