How Much Do Car Accident Lawyers Charge?

Snapshot

A car accident lawyer may get a third or more of your settlement, but clients who use an attorney in their car accident claim are much more likely to win, and get a much higher settlement, even after paying car accident legal fees.

Lawyers have a lot of leeway when it comes to how much money they take from a car accident settlement. Most charge 33% of the final settlement amount or court judgment, though it can go higher.

It may seem like a waste to pay a lawyer one-third of the money you could be putting into your own pocket but consider it an investment. A survey of car accident plaintiffs found 74% represented by a lawyer received compensation as opposed to 54% who represented themselves. Those with a lawyer got an average $44,600, compared to $13,900 if they represented themselves.

“The litigation involved in a personal injury case can be complex,” Louis Patino, of Patino Law Firm, in Texas, said. “Navigating the legal system is difficult if you have not done it before. Clients who believe they can represent themselves will usually receive a much lower settlement amount because they do not know what to ask for and how to ask for it.”

Aside from contingency fees, lawyers may charge a flat fee, or hourly rate, depending on the service provided. They also may charge legal costs that aren’t included with their fee.

Before signing on with a car accident attorney, understand the legal fees and how they work.

How Much Do Lawyers Take from a Car Accident Settlement?

Most lawyers representing someone injured in a car accident charge a contingency fee. This means that their fee is contingent on the case being successful, either with a car accident settlement or a court judgment.

Potential clients should know before they talk to a lawyer that fees are negotiated. If they aren’t satisfied with what an attorney will charge, they can take their business elsewhere.

The typical car accident lawyer fee is 33%, but it can range from 25% to 40%, depending on how complicated the case is, particularly if it goes to court. States have different laws surrounding lawyer contingency fees, too. For instance, in Florida, a lawyer can’t charge 33.3% or more unless a suit is filed.

Attorneys are required by the American Bar Association to explain their fee structure to clients, including how the client will pay the attorney, before any agreement is reached. Many states also have an “informed consent” requirement in which the attorney must explain that the fee can be negotiated and what’s involved.

Patino said his firm charges 33%, but that can increase, depending on the circumstances.

“If a lawsuit is filed, then the rate increases to 40% due to the increased complexity of preparing the case for trial and the expenses that will accumulate,” he said, adding that an appeal will raise the fee to 45%.

“But of course, some enterprising attorneys will go below the standard — usually 30%.” Patino said. “If an attorney believes that the case is substantial, they may drop their fees in order to entice the client to sign with them.”

Allen Clardy, of The Clardy Law Firm, in South Carolina, said there are factors that may also put a cap on how much a contingency fee can be. “Sometimes it’s the law,” he said. “For example, there is a 25% cap on attorney fees when bringing an action against the government under the Tort Claims Act. Sometimes it may be the facts or type of case that would affect the fee.”

Besides the fees, there are also legal costs and expenses that a lawyer charges a client in a car accident case. These are in addition to the fee.

Clardy said his firm has a rule that an attorney doesn’t take a bigger fee than what the client gets, “even after medical bills and expenses are paid.”

Car Accident Lawyer Fees

If a client is a plaintiff – the person hurt in an accident – their attorney will likely charge a contingency fee. But, while contingency fees get all the attention, there are other types of fees a lawyer can charge a car accident client. It all depends on the type of case and circumstances.

A lawyer may charge an hourly or flat fee for a small job that doesn’t involve an entire case. Flat and hourly fees are most commonly charged by attorneys who represent defendants in a car accident case.

Contingency Fee

An attorney is paid a percentage of what the client gets in a settlement or is awarded by the court. If the case isn’t successful, the attorney doesn’t get paid, though may still bill for costs and expenses. This is the most common type of payment in a car accident case.

Hourly Fee

An attorney bills a client by the hour at a rate agreed to beforehand. This is used when a client doesn’t need an attorney to handle an entire case, but just to review a settlement, write a demand letter, or handle some other aspect of the case. It’s also used by attorneys representing a defendant or insurance company, since they wouldn’t be getting a settlement.

Flat Fee

A flat fee is a fixed amount agreed to at the beginning of a case, most often used when an attorney is representing a defendant or insurance company. A plaintiff may also be charged a flat fee if they’re hiring an attorney to write a demand letter, review a settlement, or take care of some other minor aspect of a case.

Retainer

A retainer is an up-front fee a client pays to “retain” the attorney, to guarantee his/her service. If the client is going to pay an hourly fee, it guarantees a certain amount of work. If the client is paying a flat fee, it’s a down payment on the final amount. Retainers usually aren’t charged if the lawyer is working on a contingency basis.

Plaintiffs vs. Defendants: How Lawyer Fees Work for Car Accidents

A plaintiff in a car accident case is the injured party – the person who is seeking money from the at-fault driver.

A defendant is the at-fault driver, and often that driver’s car insurance company.

Because a plaintiff is seeking money and a defendant would have to pay, the type of fee the attorney charges depends on which side they represent. Since a defendant isn’t expecting a financial windfall, there’s nothing for their attorney to take a percentage of. The defense attorney is trying to keep the plaintiff from getting a windfall.

“If an attorney is representing the at-fault driver… the attorney is likely charging a flat fee or an hourly rate to the client or insurance company,” Clardy said. “Those rates can vary from $100 to $1,000 an hour, depending on the case.”

Lawyer Fees for Plaintiff

Plaintiff’s lawyers almost always work on a contingency basis. The lawyer will receive the settlement check, deduct their fees and costs, and send the client their portion. Many attorneys also pay the client’s outstanding medical bills out of their portion before sending the rest of the settlement to the client. Your attorney should discuss how that will work beforehand.

Lawyer Fees for Defendant

If the at-fault driver is insured, their insurance company will handle the case and pay the attorney costs. This may not apply, however, if the defendant didn’t notify the insurance company about the accident right away, the amount of the suit exceeds the policy limit, or the at-fault driver violated their policy while causing the accident.

If the defendant isn’t insured, they pay out of pocket, with fees likely including a retainer and either hourly or flat rate.

Additional Legal Expenses

There are legal costs, aside from the fees, lawyers will also charge a car accident client. In most cases, these will be rolled into the final payment, but sometimes they’re billed separately as the case progresses.

If they’re taken out of a settlement, make sure your contract with the lawyer stipulates that the contingency fee comes out after all expenses and costs are deducted, not before. If the attorney takes the contingency fee first, then deducts costs, it will reduce the amount you get.

Also make sure you understand how your medical expenses will be paid when the settlement comes through.

Even if an attorney’s slogan vows that you won’t pay unless they win, you may have to pay legal costs.

Don’t sign a contract with an attorney until it’s clear how the costs and expenses will be paid. They can pile up if a case goes to court. A client can also negotiate a cap on how much legal expenses will cost. While some costs are necessary – a case can’t be filed without a filing fee — a client can veto others, like an investigator or expert witness.

Some of the legal expenses that come with a car accident claim may be:

  • Police report fees
  • Medical records fees
  • Cost of an investigator if the law firm doesn’t employ one
  • Court fees, including filing documents
  • Deposition fees, including paying a court reporter
  • Paying expert witnesses to testify

Free Consultations for Car Accident Cases

Most lawyers offer a free consultation to a plaintiff looking for representation in a car accident case.

The attorney asks detailed questions about the accident or injury, including things like where it happened, when, what time of day, if there are witnesses, if there are cameras from nearby businesses, and whether the injured party was taken to the hospital by ambulance.

“From the answers provided, we can tell the potential client whether we can accept their case or not,” Patino said.

The client can ask questions, too, including about attorney fees, the process, how medical bills will be paid, and more.

Attorneys will take a case based on the answers they get and how confident they are the case will win a settlement or judgment. The potential client, too, can decide if what they hear from the attorney works for them, particularly regarding legal fees and how the fees will be paid.

Maureen Milliken

Maureen Milliken has a three-decade career as a journalist at daily newspapers and publications that focus on business and consumer finance. She covered several beats during her newspaper career, including local and state news, features on prominent public officials and several years running a sports department. She is a subject expert on topics that include consumer debt, consumer credit, labor issues, financial abuse, rural development, and legal matters resulting from accidents in the workplace and on the roads. She is adept at presenting complicated topics in an easy-to-read format that helps readers understand the topic's impact on their lives … and their pocketbooks!

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Sources:

  1. N.A. (2022 July) Contingency Fees. Retrieved from https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/contingency_fee
  2. N.A. (2020, April 14) Rule 1.5: Fees. Retrieved from https://www.americanbar.org/groups/professional_responsibility/publications/model_rules_of_professional_conduct/rule_1_5_fees/
  3. Peacock, W. 5 Tips for Determining Your Contingency Fees. Retrieved from https://www.clio.com/blog/contingency-fees/
  4. Shiner, D. (2022, April 14) Understanding the Florida No-Fault Law. Retrieved from https://shinerlawgroup.com/what-is-the-florida-no-fault-law/