20% fee for select early resolution cases
Most clients in personal injury and wrongful death cases prefer to hire lawyers on a contingent fee basis. This means fees are calculated as a predetermined percentage of the amount we recover for the client through settlement or trial. Most lawyers handle personal injury cases for 33 1/3% to 45% of the recovery, and sometimes more. That is what we do except for select early resolution track cases.Our "early resolution" track for a significantly reduced 20% fee percentage is unusual.
Efficiency should benefit our clients. An “early resolution” fee option focuses attention on efficiently obtaining optimal resolution of cases that can and should be settled early, and provides the client an incentive to get to closure without great delay. If we can get there with more efficiently, with less work and expense, the lower fee percentage is good deal for both the client and the firm.
Therefore, on new cases of wrongful death or catastrophic injury coming into our office, we offer an option of reduced fees for early resolution on these conditions:
- If we find a serious injury or wrongful death case is appropriate for an early resolution track (a subjective judgment based on experience, and generally will not apply when the extent of injury remains in doubt);
- If the client assists by gathering medical, insurance and police documents; and
- If there is a settlement within 60 days after delivery of a demand package to the insurer for the party at fault;
- Then our fee will be limited to 20% of the gross recovery, plus reimbursement of our out of pocket expenses.
This does not apply to cases that come into our office less than six months before expiration of the statute of limitations period, or to referral cases where we must share the fee with another attorney or law firm.
Of course, many insurance companies are slow to make any sort of reasonable offer and stubbornly resist doing the right thing, so most cases will not be resolved within that sixty day "early resolution" window. However, we will give it our best shot.
If an "early resolution" track case is not settled within sixty days from delivery of our demand package to the insurance company, then our fee percentage will reflect the increased time and work involved. That is typically in graduated steps such as 33 1/3% before suit, 40% if we go to suit and 45% if we go to trial, plus reimbursement of out of pocket expenses.
Occasionally, a client prefers to pay a the litigation expenses as the case progresses, perhaps in monthly installments, in exchange for a downward adjustment of the fee percentage. Once every few years, clients hire us to handle tort or insurance case on a purely hourly fee basis, with the client paying an adequate retainer for fees and expenses and replenishing it as the case progresses. We are most likely to see that when hired by a corporation for an insurance coverage dispute. However, very few injury victims find that attractive or feasible.What are typical expenses in personal injury and wrongful death cases?
In most personal injury and wrongful death cases in the United States, attorneys work on a "contingent fee" basis and advance the expenses of litigation which are reimbursed upon settlement. This provides the "key to the courthouse" for middle class people who have suffered a great loss. Rather than keeping huge amounts of money tied up in case expenses, we use a line of credit for these expenses and pass through the interest expense at settlement. But if the case is lost, we have to pay off the line of credit.
Every case is different, the expense budget varies widely among cases, and we try to scale the investment to the potential recovery. Since we usually advance expenses, we are generally conservative about spending. But if something has to be done to properly prepare a case, we do it.
However, some of the typical expenses include:
- Medical records. Cost may range from under $100 to thousands. When we obtain electronic copies rather than paper, the cost should be less.
- Radiology images. Costs vary tremendously. Now that most radiology images are obtained in electronic rather than film formats, the cost is reduced.
- Filing fees and service. We generally budget about $400, more or less. Because service by deputies in some counties is slow and unreliable, we often use a private process server to deliver papers to an elusive defendant. That necessarily increases cost.
- Photographs of scene. This varies from zero to hundreds of dollars, depending up on the source.
- Transcripts of client depositions. A court reporter (stenographer) types up every deposition word for word. That usually costs about $300 to $500 for each deposition.
- Accident reconstruction expert. While not always required, private crash reconstruction expense can range from $5,000 to $25,000, and sometimes more.
- Video depositions of opposing parties. We usually have a videographer tape the depositions of opposing parties. That costs about $750 to $1,500 per deposition.
- Custom medical illustrations - about $800 to $1,000 each. We use generic medical illustrations when appropriate but sometimes only a custom medical illustration will suffice.
- Depositions of treating physicians, including doctors’ fees, court reporter and videographer - about $2,000 each.
- Travel. In interstate trucking and products liability cases, we often have to travel to distant states. Travel expenses include air fare, hotel, meals, rental cars, etc. When traveling at the client's ultimate expense, we take the cheapest flight with a reasonable schedule, rent economy cars, and stay in moderately priced hotels and motels. For most anything within 4 or 5 hours’ drive from Atlanta, we drive and just charge mileage plus moderately priced lodging if required.
- Expert witnesses on the subject matter of the lawsuit. While not always required, expert witnesses can run into tens of thousands of dollars. We discuss with clients before incurring such expense.
- Other expenses may include skip tracers, investigators, mileage, postage, nurse consultants, consulting experts, couriers, Fedex and UPS, etc.
- At the time of settlement, we are reimbursed for our out of pocket case expenses.
Unlike insurance companies and large corporation that routinely budget for litigation expenses, most individuals and families with serious injury and wrongful death cases cannot readily afford to pay many thousands of dollars to assert their claims in court. For years, we have given clients the option of paying us by the hour like corporations and insurance companies pay the lawyers on the other side. Only one client ever chose that. All the rest have preferred to leave with us the risk of not getting paid if the case does not go well.
The typical choice is a "contingent fee," with payment contingent upon collecting from the other side. That means that our fee is calculated as a percentage of the amount we recover for the client through settlement or trial.
Lawyers handling serious injury and wrongful death cases almost always have to advance the expenses of litigation. That is because most people who have had such a serious loss cannot afford to pay thousands of dollars for expenses of litigation. But on those rare occasions when a willing and able to pay the expenses as they are incurred, reducing our financial risk, we reduce the fee percentage accordingly.
For more information about the public policy and economics of the contingent fee see system, see this article published by the Georgia Civil Justice Foundation.