What does contingency fee mean in an injury lawsuit?

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A contingency fee or contingent fee is common in personal injury lawsuits, because those cases usually involve a monetary value. There is a settlement or a judgment that can be anticipated, and the fees are due when the case concludes in the client’s favor. A contingency fee arrangement is a legal remedy that allows the client to hire a lawyer without the upfront retainer or the hassle of representing oneself.

The lawyer’s services are made available under an agreement where payment is contingent upon the ability to recovery compensation from the at-fault party. The case may be an attempt to recover damages from the insurance company representing an individual in a car accident or a company/organization in a slip-and-fall case. A contingency fee may not be appropriate in all personal injury cases, so you should discuss your expectation and request further details about fee arrangements with your attorney in your first consult or appointment.

What is a contingency fee?

A contingency fee is usually a percentage of the final settlement or award if the lawsuit is successful. The lawyer is taking a risk based on an unforeseen and often unknowable outcome. So, if the lawyer wins the case, he or she receives a portion of the fee that is awarded to the client. If the lawyer does not win the case, he or she does not typically receive payment.

In most cases, the lawyer will only take your case if the chances are good that they will win the case.  That reality may be a relief if they agree to take your case, since it may feel like a guarantee that your attorney will win the case. There is no guarantee, though. The contingency fee agreement does give your attorney an added incentive to work on your behalf to ensure the best settlement or award possible

What percentage of the settlement or award does the lawyer get for a contingency fee?

The contingency fee can be about 1/3 of the overall award or settlement amount, but the percentage can increase as the case progresses to trial. The contingency fee can range upwards of 50% depending on the particulars of the case and what is required. For example, more involved cases or those that require upfront investigations and research may require a higher contingency fee.

Lawyers are subject to ethics rules and oversight to ensure that the fees are reasonable and above-board in negotiation and fulfillment. If the case is clear-cut, it may not be appropriate to offer a contingency fee payment arrangement. A judge can step in to invalidate or change the contingency fee if the agreement is unfair or unreasonable based on the complexity of the case, the overall award value, and how likely it is for the case to be successful. State law may also determine whether the contingency fee structure is valid in your situation.

How does a contingency work?

A contingency fee arrangement can vary depending on the nature of the injury, any restrictions or caps on the payout, and other mitigating circumstances. Instead of a fixed hourly fee, the lawyer agrees to suspend payment requirements and only receive fees if he or she wins the case. With a contingency payment arrangement, the lawyer usually covers all up-front expenses.

Those initial expenses could include the cost for expert witnesses, travel costs, filing fees, and accident reconstruction. Then, when the settlement is reached for the client or the award is determined by the court, those costs are deducted from the overall award or settlement amount. If the case goes to trial, additional materials and experts may be required. Contingency fee milestones may be addressed in your agreement with your personal injury attorney.

Can you do anything to reduce the cost?

Contingency fees are agreed upon up-front, but there are costs that you can control. You can often discuss ways to streamline the process as much as possible, while ensuring that you receive the best representation possible. It’s also important that you work with a reputable law firm when you consider a contingency fee structure. When the lawyer already has developed a rapport with attorneys and insurance companies, that pre-existing relationship tends to expedite the process.

What are the benefits of a contingency fee?

The contingency fee is designed to benefit both the lawyer and the client. In the best-case scenarios, the contingency fee achieves the desired outcome for both parties. It means that the lawyer and the client are both financially invested in the success of the personal injury lawsuit. Here are the benefits:

  • The client/plaintiff is not required to come up with the costs to retain a lawyer. It’s most beneficial to indigent clients.
  • The lawyer may receive a higher overall payout when they win compared with standard billing.
  • The client/plaintiff does not typically pay anything if they don’t win the case.
  • The lawyer will probably only take the case if the chances of a win are very high. It helps to avoid an onslaught of frivolous or litigious lawsuits.
  • The client/plaintiff can focus on recovering instead of worrying about paying for legal fees.

With a contingency fee arrangement, the goal is to present the best possible case to achieve a positive result for all parties involved.

How Bley & Evans can help you

At Bley & Evans, we are your personal injury lawyers in Columbia, Missouri. If you’ve been seriously injured, we offer contingency payment arrangements to meet your needs. Then, we go to work for you to get you the fair and equitable outcome that you deserve. We offer the skills and experience you need to represent you in court and in settlement discussions. You can rely on us to deliver. We are dedicated to your cause, and we advocate in your best interest.


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