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What is a contingency fee agreement in personal injury cases?

Phil Photo New By Philip M. Snyder

As accident and injury attorneys in Fort Lauderdale, we oftentimes receive inquiries from prospective clients involved in automobile accidents and slip or falls regarding our fee structure.  More specifically, these prospective clients ask, “What is a “contingency fee agreement”?” and “Will you take the case even if I cannot afford to pay a retainer?”

Personal injury attorneys are compensated on a contingency fee agreement, and not hourly payment

Contingency fee agreements are customarily used for cases wherein a plaintiff is seeking monetary damages for some sort of injury (i.e. automobile accident, slip or fall, wrongful death, etc.) A contingency fee agreement is a payment arrangement that allows an individual who has been injured and is seeking legal remedy to obtain legal representation even if they do not have money to pay a personal injury lawyer. When entering into a contingency fee agreement, the injured party does not pay the personal injury attorney any money up front, agreeing instead to pay the attorney a percentage of their “award” should they win the case at trial or enter into settlement terms with the negligent party or their insurance company.   In a contingency fee agreement, the personal injury attorney will also pay the expenses (costs) of the lawsuit (including filing fees, investigators, medical records, experts, etc.)   Such costs will be paid back from the proceeds of the settlement, if any.

In Florida, the standard contingency fee arrangement for personal injury cases is as follows (as prescribed by the Florida Bar).

(a)            33-1/3% of any recovery up to $1 million if my claim is settled without suit or if suit is filed, until the time that the defendant files an answer to the suit or files a demand for appointment of arbitrators;

(b)           40% of any recovery up to $1 million from the time the personal injury attorney files the lawsuit and the defendant files an answer or demand for appointment of arbitrators through the time of trial or entry of judgment. This percentage (40%) applies after the answer denying liability has been filed even if your case does not actually go to trial. However, if all defendants admit liability at the time of filing their answers and request a trial only on damages, then the fee due to the personal injury attorney, shall be limited to 33-1/3% of any recovery up to $1,000,000.00; and

(c)            An additional 5% of any recovery after notice of appeal is filed or post-judgment relief or action is required for recovery of the judgment.

If the recovery is in excess of $1 million, the attorneys’ fee will be computed as follows:

(a)       30% of any recovery between $1-2 million;

(b)       20% of any recovery in excess of $2 million.

If the recovery is in excess of $1 million and all defendants admit liability at the time of filing their initial answers and request a trial only on damages, then the attorneys’ fee will be computed as follows:

(a)       20% of any recovery between $1-2 million;

(b)       15% of any recovery in excess of $2 million.

What happens if I do not receive any money as a result of my accident?  What will I owe the personal injury attorney?

If you do not receive any money as a result of the accident, you will not owe the personal injury attorney any fees or costs.   By entering into a contingency fee contract, the personal injury attorney accepts the risk that your case may not lead to a fruitful settlement.  Even if the personal injury attorney spends hundreds of hours preparing for your case and thousands of dollars in costs, he/she will not get paid if you are not awarded a settlement.

Do any other types of lawyers work on contingency fee agreements?

In Florida, worker’s compensation attorneys customarily accept cases on a contingency fee basis.   The contingency fee arrangement in worker’s compensation cases is capped at a much lower rate than personal injury cases, however.   Lawyers handling criminal matters are precluded from accepting cases on a contingency fee basis.   Divorce attorneys are also strongly discouraged from accepting cases on a contingency fee basis for public policy concerns.   Most other matters could theoretically be accepted on a contingency fee basis, however, practically speaking, contingency fee agreements are standard only for personal injury and worker’s compensation claims.

It is important that your personal injury attorney fully explains the difference between a standard fee and contingency fee agreement.   As always, do not enter into an agreement if you have any questions regarding the terms of payment.

FortLauderdale personal injury lawyer Marc P. Lyons is a founding partner of Lyons, Snyder & Collin, P.A. in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.    Fort Lauderdale accident attorney Marc P. Lyons handles all personal injury matters including, auto accidents, slip and falls, premise liability, and wrongful death.

The Fort Lauderdale personal injury law firm of Lyons, Snyder & Collin, P.A. is located at 312 Southeast 17th Street, Third Floor, Fort Lauderdale, Florida 33316.  Telephone: 954.462.8035.  http://www.lyonssnyder.com/