Most personal injury lawyers do not ask for upfront fees, but rather take a percentage of any settlement amount or jury award. The fees may range from 25 percent to 40 percent, depending on the specifics of the case. Some personal injury lawyers include court costs in that percentage, while others charge separately for these costs. This allows people who need help seeking justice to hire a lawyer without worrying about paying for it upfront.
How much money a specific attorney earns depends on the specific policies of his or her firm, its location, and the types of personal injury cases that it handles. A personal injury lawyer in a larger city or who has more than one office will make more money than someone in a small country office, simply because there are more people who might need legal services. Another major consideration for lawyer compensation is a lawyer’s individual experience. Someone who is just out of law school will earn much less than someone who has been practicing personal injury law for 30 years or more.
Types of Personal Injury Cases
In short, a personal injury is an injury to the body or mind. Personal injury cases involve two primary legal concepts: liability and damages. The person who injured you—the defendant—must be liable for your injuries and damages for you to have a valid personal injury claim. Personal injury is a tort claim and is filed in civil court. Some torts are intentional torts, such as assault, battery, and intentionally causing someone emotional distress. Others are caused by negligence, and some may have been complete accidents. Regardless of the type of injury that you sustained, you are entitled to damages. In some cases, where the defendant acted grossly negligent, such as by driving under the influence or purposely taunting or stalking you so much that it caused you to sustain physical or emotional injuries, you may also be entitled to punitive damages.
Personal injury cases often involve:
- Vehicle accidents, including car accidents, truck accidents, boating accidents, airplane accidents, motorcycle accidents, and bicycle accidents. Vehicle accidents tend to fall into two categories: true accidents and accidents that negligent behavior, such as driving under the influence or distracted driving, cause. If you sustained an injury or lost a loved one because of another individual’s gross negligence, you may also receive punitive damages, which courts award to injured individuals as punishment for the gross negligence of defendants.
- Pedestrian accidents. These are often thought of as vehicle accidents, as most pedestrians accidents involve both pedestrians and motor vehicles.
- Medical malpractice cases. These could vary from a misdiagnosis, doctor error during birth that causes a birth defect, and errors in surgery, such as leaving foreign matter in a patient’s body or cutting off the wrong foot.
- Slip and fall cases. These cases may involve individual defendants if you were injured at someone’s home, against a private commercial business—such as a store or manufacturer—if injured at a place of business, or against a government or governmental entity—such as a state or national park—if injured due to unsafe conditions in a public place. This type of law is also known as premises liability law.
- Defamation cases for libel or slander. These are more difficult to win, as plaintiffs must prove that their reputation was sullied by the defendant’s untrue statements. Libel is easier to prove because it’s written; whereas slander involves the spoken word.
- Dog and other animal bites. While minor bites may seem inconsequential, they could potentially lead to serious illness if the animal is sick. Animal bites may also cause extensive physical damage or even death.
- Intentional torts—including assault, battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, false imprisonment, and trespass. The state may decide to charge these offenses in criminal court. Even if the state tries and convicts someone of an intentional tort, you can still sue the defendant in civil court for financial damages.
- Workplace accidents—whether they occur due to a lack of appropriate safety equipment, the negligence of an employer or co-worker, broken equipment, or other negligent behaviors at the workplace.
- Products liability. This type of case involves a plaintiff who sustains an injury from a defective product. Products, including drugs, food, and other consumer products, may have improper warnings or be harmful. Defective products, such as vehicle parts, also fall within the realm of products liability law.
- Wrongful death. You might sue for wrongful death if a loved one dies due to another person’s or company’s actions or inactions. A wrongful death lawsuit may stem from a deadly car accident, a medical malpractice claim, nursing home neglect, a construction accident, or another workplace accident.
- Nursing home abuse. The circumstances of these cases vary widely, and may involve an unattended patient sustaining an injury while walking around or a caretaker dropping a patient onto the floor. Nursing home abuse also includes failing to keep patients clean and failing to ensure that patients maintain a healthy diet.
- Birth injuries caused by a doctor or medical team.
- Brain injuries caused by the negligent actions of someone else, such as a drunk driver that strikes you and causes you to sustain a traumatic brain injury.
- Food poisoning, which can come from a restaurant, food at a company or church picnic, or even food bought from the grocery store, if the store did not properly store the food.
- Exposure to asbestos causes all sorts of health issues. Even if the exposure occurred many years ago, you may still have a viable personal injury claim.
- Exposure to chemicals such as Round-Up or Agent Orange. While the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) will pay for some illnesses caused by Agent Orange, it doesn’t necessarily cover everything. The VA will also try to deny disability to those who were not engaged in active land combat, though if the veteran fights hard enough in court, he or she may get benefits. For example, if a veteran was in the Navy and spent most of his time on the ship, but occasionally flew in a helicopter, that veteran could have been exposed to Agent Orange. If the plane or helicopter landed on the ship and contained debris or brush that had been sprayed with Agent Orange, Navy veterans may have been exposed to the toxic substance. A qualified personal injury attorney will help you determine your eligibility for compensation if you’ve been exposed to Agent Orange.
The extent of the injury and the circumstances that caused it dictate how much compensation a plaintiff may receive. That amount, in turn, dictates how much a personal injury lawyer will make.
Settlements and Lawsuits
Most personal injury cases will involve at least one insurance company. Your personal injury attorney may try to settle with the insurance company; however, insurance companies are notorious for offering the lowest amount possible to close a claim. In those situations, personal injury attorneys often take the case to court to see if the court will order a higher payout. It’s often best to settle outside of court, which will end the whole process much sooner. If your case has to go to trial, it will take much longer to wrap up; however, if the insurance company refuses to offer a fair settlement amount, it’s worth taking your case to trial.
If you’ve suffered catastrophic injuries in your accident, it’s likely in your best interest to file a personal injury lawsuit and take your case to trial. With minor injuries or non-catastrophic injuries, you’ll heal quicker. Catastrophic injuries often require additional therapy and medical care that could cost the insurance company hundreds of thousands of dollars rather than thousands of dollars.
Types of Cases
If you must take your case to court because the insurance company refuses to offer you a fair settlement, you may not be the only person injured by the entity, in which case you could choose to file a class action lawsuit. In a class action lawsuit, you will be one of several plaintiffs, and you will all share in the amount of money paid out.
A personal injury attorney may receive more compensation from this type of case, because of the higher amount the defendant will have to pay. Since most personal injury attorneys don’t charge on an hourly basis, but rather a percentage on a contingency basis, this does not affect the amount of compensation that you will receive. In fact, you may actually get more in a class action suit if the attorney takes less than the standard 33 to 40 percent from each member of the class action suit.
Why You Should Retain a Personal Injury Attorney
You may think that settling with insurance companies is an easy process that you can handle yourself, without the help of an attorney. However, failing to retain counsel may result in you securing less compensation. Insurance companies look out for their bottom line, which means that they are going to pay out the least amount possible, even your own insurance company.
Thus, when you are making a claim, even against your own insurance, you should retain a personal injury attorney to handle the negotiations and review any settlement offers. Studies have shown that when individuals retain an attorney, settlements are higher. Furthermore, if an insurance company is particularly stubborn with a low-ball offer, an attorney can take your case to trial, and insurance companies know this. Trial can prove especially beneficial in cases that involve serious or catastrophic injuries and long-term care. It is difficult to get an insurance company to pay for ongoing care, including occupational or physical therapy and follow up doctors’ appointments.
Fees and Costs
While many personal injury attorneys cover their clients’ fees and costs up-front, some may require you to pay those out of pocket. Attorney’s fees are what you pay an attorney to represent your rights in settlement negotiations and/or in court. Costs are the actual costs of filing all components of a lawsuit; attorneys don’t turn a profit on costs. For example, if the fee to file a dog bite personal injury case is $400 in the court, then the attorney will charge you $400 for this. Similarly, if you go to mediation or arbitration and the mediator/arbitrator charges $450 per hour, the attorney will charge you $450 for this. Costs may include:
- Lawsuit filing fees with the clerk of court, which are set by statute
- Personal service of the summons, which depends on the price of the process server
- Postage and copies
- The cost of arbitration or mediation, which is based on the hourly rate the mediator or arbitrator charges
- The cost of taking depositions, which may include travel, office space, and equipment rental
- The cost of court reporters, which depends on what the court reporter charges and may be an hourly, a daily, or a flat-rate fee
- The cost of any investigators, which depends on their charging structures
- The cost of expert witnesses, which is based on an hourly or a flat-rate fee
If the personal injury attorney covers your case’s costs for you up-front, he or she will deduct that amount from the amount awarded to you at settlement or trial, and then also deduct his or her percentage of attorney’s fee. If an attorney charges a flat rate fee, he or she may include the costs in that rate, even though they are billed separately.
Choosing a Personal Injury Attorney
If you live in an area that has many personal injury attorneys, it’s often difficult to choose the right one. First, always check to see if an attorney is registered with the Florida Bar Association and, if so, if he or she is in good standing. If the attorney has any blemishes against his or her record, it will be listed on the Bar’s website.
Look at some of the attorney’s settled cases. Often, personal injury attorneys will tell you the type of case and how much the settlement was for, or how much the court ordered the defendant to pay.
Always ask a personal injury attorney what you will need to pay up front, such as costs. While requiring the payment of up-front costs doesn’t necessarily mean that an attorney is not a good attorney, it could mean that you might not be able to afford to pursue the lawsuit, depending on the amount of the costs.
Ask the attorney how he or she will be charging you for his or her time. Most personal injury attorneys work on a contingency basis, which means they will take a percentage of your compensation award as their attorney’s fees. Some attorneys won’t charge you anything if they don’t win your case.
Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA
800 North Belcher Road
Clearwater, FL 33765