How Much Does a Lawyer Charge for a Car Accident?
If money is on your mind after your car wreck, you are not alone. Aside from one’s physical health and physical recovery, financial issues are a major concern for many car accident victims. A car wreck can impose significant financial strains on you: the last thing you want to do, then, is to add to your economic woes by incurring additional debts and obligations. This understandable desire is behind the decision of some car accident injury victims to forego legal representation. The fear of these individuals is that a lawyer will charge exorbitant fees that will bankrupt the victim or (at the very least) result in a minimal recovery that will not be enough to address all of the bills the victim has suffered. How realistic are these concerns, however? How much can a car accident injury victim expect to spend to secure quality legal assistance?
The Various Billing Methods of Car Accident Lawyers
Before addressing these questions, it should be observed that not all car accident attorneys and law firms bill their clients in the same manner. Even within the same city or state, different car accident lawyers may bill their clients by:
- Charging an hourly fee (with or without a retainer): This is the billing method most cash-strapped car accident victims fear. In this method, the attorney may charge the client an up-front retainer (that can be several thousand dollars) and then bills the client for additional expenses incurred that exceed this retainer at a set hourly rate. The client is responsible for the attorney’s fees and expenses regardless of the outcome of the case.
- Charging a flat fee: In this billing method, the attorney charges a set fee for his or her services. The client may or may not be responsible for additional expenses and costs such as the attorney’s mileage costs, copying expenses, and other similar costs. However, in a flat fee arrangement, the client is not responsible for any of the attorney’s time that exceeds the flat fee agreed upon. For example, an attorney who charges clients a flat fee of $2,000 for his or her services will not charge additional amounts for his or her services to the client, even if the attorney’s hourly-rate equivalent would far exceed the $2,000.
- Charging a contingency fee: This is a popular billing method for car accident lawyers and is also friendly toward car accident victims. In a contingency fee arrangement, the attorney and client agree that the attorney’s fees will be paid out of the recovery the attorney is able to obtain for the client. Usually, the attorney takes a percentage of the recovery as opposed to a set dollar amount (this way, a smaller recovery means a smaller fee for the attorney). If the attorney is unsuccessful in recovering compensation, then, the attorney does not receive payment for his or her fees. The client may or may not be responsible for costs and expenses such as mileage and the costs of expert witnesses, for example.
How Much Does a Car Accident Lawyer Charge?
How much you should expect to spend on a lawyer will depend on the type of billing method that attorney chooses:
- If your attorney is one who is charging an hourly fee, you can expect to pay anywhere from $100 to $400 or more per hour for every hour your attorney works on your case. You will pay a larger hourly fee for attorneys who are more experienced, who are in larger metropolitan areas, and/or for cases that do not resolve quickly. Most attorneys will charge in fractions of an hour, and the client is billed for everything from court appearances to responding to telephone calls or e-mails. An attorney’s fees can easily reach into the thousands of dollars (or even greater) under this fee arrangement. As noted above, you would be responsible for these fees regardless of whether your car accident lawsuit is successful.
- If your attorney is charging a flat fee, you can expect to pay several thousand dollars upfront. Again, this flat fee will be greater for law firms and lawyers with greater experience and those in metropolitan areas. Those lawyers who do charge a flat fee for services and representation related to car accidents will typically not take on a case that is complicated or one that appears to require a great deal of time. Alternatively, these attorneys may only offer to handle the car accident case up to a certain point (such as attempting to reach a settlement within a specific period of time) and will then either withdraw or demand additional fees.
- If your attorney charges a contingency fee, you can also expect to pay your attorney several thousand dollars in fees. There are two important differences, however: (1) First, you generally do not have to pay any amount upfront to cover your attorney’s fees and any attorney’s fees assessed will be directly tied to the recovery your attorney gives you; and (2) even where the attorney’s fees are tied to the amount of your recovery, many jurisdictions statutorily or otherwise limit the percentage of your recovery that your attorney can claim for his or her fees. For instance, you would be hard-pressed to find any jurisdiction that would permit an attorney to claim 75% or more (or even 50%) of your recovery no matter how skilled the attorney or large the recovery. Nearly every jurisdiction will invalidate and strike down a contingency-fee arrangement that rewards the attorney with a fee that is excessive or outrageous.
The Final Word on Costs
Clearly, a contingency fee arrangement is the most advantageous for many car accident victims. While the attorney is able to recover thousands of dollars in fees (in most cases) for a successful case, you – the injured victim – are protected in the event the attorney fails to obtain the relief he or she promised you.
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