How Much Does a Lawyer Cost?Personal Injuries
To most people, hiring a lawyer for a personal injury claim makes sense. Hiring an expert with any complex issue is generally; a good idea and can pay off dividends in many different ways. This is certainly true of having an experienced, skilled attorney in a personal injury case.
Unfortunately, many, especially victims with a flood of incoming medical bills after an accident, hesitate at the thought of the potential extra cost of hiring an attorney. After all, lawyers are expensive, right? The truth is, lawyers are generally affordable for most personal injury claimants. Furthermore, not hiring a lawyer can end up costing a claimant many thousands more in the long run.
The Cost of Hiring a Lawyer: A Breakdown
Most personal injury attorneys know that their prospective clients have many unexpected expenses to contend with following their accidents. Medical bills are normally high on the list, especially for victims who sustain long-term, life-changing injuries like spinal cord injuries or severe traumatic brain injury.
Attorneys understand that any additional expense can be simply infeasible for their clients. Acknowledging this reality, but appreciating the value and importance of legal representation in personal injury cases, many attorneys offer payment schedules that can make legal services affordable for everyone, regardless of their present financial circumstances.
Most personal injury lawyers will start with a free consultation to go over your specific case—going over the accident, figuring out all potentially responsible parties, reviewing the kinds of injuries you sustained, and estimating how much compensation you could recover.
During your free consultation, you can ask any questions you may have about your legal rights and recourse. You might ask whether you have a strong personal injury claim, who you can hold accountable to pay the expenses resulting from your injuries, and what to expect of the process of bringing a claim. By going over these details, you can consider your options and determine whether to proceed with a lawsuit or to start by filing for insurance.
A free consultation also provides an opportunity to decide if you want to work with a specific attorney. Go into your consultation with questions about how the attorney will handle your claim and what services they can provide.
You may want to ask questions about the attorney’s past case results, what their specialties are, but also about more seemingly simple things, such as how frequently you can expect them to keep in contact with you if they take on your case. The more questions you have, the more you can figure out how the attorney will handle your case and if they are the right fit for you.
You may want to ask:
- How frequently do you directly communicate with clients?
- What things will I need to do to keep my claim going forward, and what can you take care of on your own?
- What costs may I incur, besides legal fees for your services?
During your free consultation, you can also get a general feel for the attorney and determine whether you feel comfortable working with them representing you. You may need to deal with the attorney for a while, especially if your claim cannot settle and must go all the way through to a court trial. You want a professionally capable attorney, but make sure you are comfortable with their personality and that you can work together.
Contingency Fees: What They Are and How They Work
In your free consultation, an attorney usually explains their fee structure. More often than now, your attorney will work on a contingency fee basis. Simply put, a contingency fee basis means that your attorney will take their legal fees from a percentage of the funds you win as part of your personal injury claim. The fee covers all of the legal services associated with your personal injury claim. In other words, you don’t pay anything upfront, and you only pay if the attorney is successful with your case. This arrangement makes having an attorney an affordable option for many people.
If an attorney accepts your case on a contingency fee basis, it usually means the attorney thinks you have a good chance of winning your case and recovering considerable compensation. If they did not think you had a good chance of recovery, they wouldn’t risk putting all of the time and effort in your case, just to likely recover nothing. The percentage of the fee may vary, potentially depending on many factors, including the range of legal services the attorney feels you will need to fully and satisfactorily resolve your claim.
The Cost of Failing to Hire an Attorney
Hiring an attorney in your personal injury case is smart not only because it’s affordable, but because those who fail to hire an attorney may end up failing to recover as much compensation as they deserve and may incur many costs they wouldn’t have expected.
You Are Likely to Recover Less Compensation
Many personal injury victims find that having an attorney on their side increases the compensation they receive for their injuries. Simply having an attorney on your side may increase the insurance company’s offer. When a claimant is self-represented, insurance companies may offer much less than is fair, banking on the claimant being unaware of how much they actually deserve. Having an attorney may increase the compensation you can recover in several key ways.
1) An attorney can identify and bring claims against all parties that may bear liability for your injuries. Did you know that more than one party might share liability for the situation that led to your accident?
Take, for instance, a truck accident claim. You may suppose, based on the circumstances that led to the accident, that the truck driver caused the accident. And the truck driver often bears liability, particularly when it can be shown that their negligence or recklessness was a direct cause of the accident, such as by drinking and driving or driving distracted. However, other parties often share liability.
In a trucking case, another party that is frequently liable is the trucker’s employer. Your attorney’s investigation may show that the driver’s employer failed to conduct proper maintenance on the vehicle or that the employer regularly pushes its drivers to exceed the federally limited hours they can spend on the road each day. Or, if the accident occurred because of incorrectly loaded cargo, the company that loaded that cargo might also share in the liability for the accident.
An attorney can investigate all of the facets of the accident and identify all parties who may share liability for the injuries you sustained in the accident. Identifying more liable parties can help you recover full compensation, as a single party’s insurance limits might not cover the extent of your costs. An attorney can gauge the percentage liability each party bears and how to move forward with a personal injury claim involving multiple parties. If you try to handle your claim on your own, on the other hand, you might fail to identify a potentially liable party or miss key details, which could make it difficult for you to receive the full compensation you deserve.
2) An attorney can collect evidence to strengthen your case. Sometimes, finding multiple potentially liable parties can help ensure there are sufficient insurance resources to cover the extent of expenses for your injuries and impacts; it can also make the investigation of the accident more complicated. Sorting out how each defendant contributed to the accident and the percentage of liability each should bear can be a complex undertaking, and requires a lot of investigation and research. An experienced and skilled attorney, however, should know what evidence to collect to answer the key questions of your case.
An attorney can:
- Contact witnesses. Witness statements are typically a primary source of evidence in determining the causes of a serious accident. Witnesses can describe the event from their perspective, and corroborate your story. Witnesses tend to be most valuable soon after the accident, while the events are still fresh on their minds. Witness memories of small but important details tend to fade quickly, which makes it essential to find an attorney who can track down witnesses and get their statements as soon after an accident as possible.
- Collect critical documentary evidence, such as video footage. Some accidents occur near facilities having security surveillance. Your attorney may access such footage, find new leads, and possibly use the footage itself to support your case.
- Bring in expert witnesses, when necessary. An expert witness can help evaluate exactly what led to a specific accident. For example, your attorney might bring in an expert engineer as a witness in a car accident case to evaluate pictures of the crash scene and the damage to the vehicles involved and, based on their expertise, provide an opinion as to which driver likely caused the accident.
- Go over any other evidence related to the accident. After a truck accident, for example, an attorney may access a truck driver’s records and even investigate the truck driver’s employer’s records to get a better idea of any external factors that may have contributed to the accident.
3) An attorney can help you fully understand the full compensation you deserve for your injuries. Most people don’t realize the full extent of the compensation they deserve after a severe accident, especially if they have never dealt with a personal injury claim in the past. As a result, many accident victims end up accepting quick, low settlement offers from insurance companies.
Once you accept a settlement offer and sign an agreement, you no longer have the right to seek further compensation. This means that if you accept an initial offer, even if you later realize it’s insufficient to cover all of your accident expenses, you generally will not have grounds to pursue compensation for the shortfall. Unfortunately, that may mean substantial financial difficulty in the long term.
An attorney will know all of the expenses and impacts to figure into your claim, from all accident-related medical expenses to estimations of damages for the pain and suffering the accident caused you. You should contact an experienced personal injury attorney as soon after your accident as possible—ideally, before the insurance company has a chance to contact you with a settlement offer. The attorney can go over your right to compensation and help you get a better idea of what you should really expect as you move forward with your claim, which can help you make a more informed decision about when to accept a settlement offer.
4) An attorney can help you avoid mistakes that might limit the compensation you can recover. An attorney can help you avoid pitfalls that could be damaging to your claim. For instance, posting on social media about your accident, or posting about all the fun activities you engage in after your accident could end up limiting the compensation you can receive. Your attorney can advise you on things to avoid saying or doing that could give the insurance company a reason to deny or minimize your claim.
You Are Likely to Experience Great Stress
Dealing with the aftermath of a serious injury leaves you with stress in all parts of your life. You have medical appointments. Some people must endure surgeries or must learn to live with new limitations. Maybe you cannot work, and don’t know how to pay the bills while you’re waiting for your claim to resolve.
Why add on the stress of having to represent yourself in your claim? Working with an experienced personal injury attorney can significantly reduce the stress you take on, from relieving you of investigating your claim yourself, to having someone else negotiate with the insurance company. When you hire an attorney, you can focus on your medical recovery and on managing major changes in your life, while they take care of your claim and pursue the maximum amount of compensation you can collect.
Nathan Hughey, an attorney and fourth-generation South Carolinian, founded Hughey Law Firm in 2007. Before that, he spent five years defending nursing homes and insurance companies. Leveraging his experience, he now advocates for those injured or wronged by such entities, securing over $220 million in verdicts and settlements.