In a large personal injury lawsuit, a good attorney will end up taking roughly half of your winnings. And he or she will deserve it, and you’ll be happy to pay.
Lawyers are really expensive, and completely worth it.
No matter how lucky you are, someone else’s negligence will likely get you in an accident one day.
You’ll need a lot of help. Maybe you’re insured, and most of your medical expenses are covered. Maybe you have a pretty big safety net of friends, family, and savings.
If you’re like most Americans, however, you don’t have enough to cover something really catastrophic. Maybe your insurance isn’t top-notch. Maybe your family isn’t able to give you the help you need.
Fact is, at some point, you’ll need a personal injury attorney. One car crash can cost several hundred thousand dollars in hospital bills, lost wages, damaged property, and recovery time. No amount of savings and insurance can cover all those costs. If you want to protect yourself, you need someone experienced in your corner.
Remember, in the end, it’s always cheaper to have an attorney than not.
How Can I Hire a Personal Injury Attorney?
Don’t worry – most people who are seriously injured in an accident don’t have a whole lot of money.
Personal injury lawyers usually work on a contingency basis. That means, simply put, that they don’t get paid unless they win. They will then take a portion of the winnings as their payment. You’ll get the remainder.
Suppose, for example, that you’re the victim in a car accident. The driver was in a company car, distracted by a cell phone, and is criminally liable for damages. His company is also liable, and will pay you a set amount of money, depending on how serious the accident is. Your personal injury lawyer will take a portion of that final amount of money, and you’ll get the rest.
The benefit to this method is that, of course, you won’t need any money up front. The downside is that your attorney’s final fee will be over 1/3 of the money you win.
It might seem like a steep price to pay, but without the attorney, you probably wouldn’t win any money at all.
Should I Hire an Attorney?
The short answer is ‘yes. No attorney, no money.’
Suppose, again, you’re the victim in a car accident, and you’re suing the negligible driver for money you’ve lost. How much money do you ask for? Is it just medical bills, lost wages, and property damage?
Are you suing for special or general damages? Have you prepared a demand letter? Do you know how much of your ask to give up in negotiation?
Confused? You should be. This is a complicated process, and navigating it well requires a good personal injury attorney.
Remember, without the attorney, you probably won’t get paid.
Of course, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be familiar with the process.
What’s Going to Happen in my Personal Injury Lawsuit?
Most of these cases follow a predictable path. After meeting with your personal injury lawyer, and after gathering up all the receipts, bills, and evidence in your case, you will both decide on an amount that you feel adequately reflects how much you’re owed.
Then, of course, you’ll ask for it.
1. The Demand Letter
Simply put, this is a well-organized collection of evidence that demonstrates the suffering you’ve endured and the money you’ve lost, topped with a simple request: ‘pay this dollar amount to my client.’
This might sound easy to do alone, but don’t – a good personal injury attorney will know things you do not, and avoid mistakes. Was the demand letter written before all medical care was received? If so, it’s no good – you won’t be able to ask for the remaining medical bills. Does the letter contain the phrase ‘for settlement purposes only’ at the beginning? If not, it’s no good – those being sued can now use that letter to prove in court that you need that much money, and no more, and thus limit their payout.
After the letter comes the back and forth.
This part is exactly what it sounds like – to and fro, offer and counteroffer - until either a settlement is reached, or a lawsuit becomes inevitable.
If a settlement is reached, and you don’t go to court, you’ll usually pay your attorney 1/3 of the settlement total. If you’ve asked for $60,000, your lawyer will get $20,000, plus whatever he or she has paid for up to this point. You yourself will get $30-$40,000.
If a settlement isn’t reached?
Your attorney has sent the demand letter, and negotiation has gone nowhere. You’re going to court with a good attorney.
Remember, though, that you only get paid if you win. It’s all the more reason to have a very good case.
Naturally, it’s best to know ahead of time how to make sure you have that good case.
What Do I Need for a Solid Case?
There are three things you’ll need to help your personal injury attorney prepare your case: records, records, and records.
First, let’s tackle the easy ones – medical bills, auto shop bills, etc. These are all the things you can prove easily on paper. You won’t have to prove you spent $15,000 at a hospital if you have a hospital bill for $15,000.
Added up together, these easily proved debts are called ‘special damages.’ They’re the first thing you ask repayment for in any settlement or lawsuit.
It’s easy to miss some of them, however, if you don’t use a checklist.
4 Record Types of Special Damages
Let’s talk special damages. What records do you need?
1. Medical Expenses
This one is obvious – make sure you have all your hospital bills, doctor bills, anesthesiology bills, and any other bill you’ve accumulated while getting medical treatment.
2. Property Damage
If you’ve been in a car accident, save the body shop bills. If someone damaged your home, save the plumbing, electrician, and contractor bills. If items in your car were damaged, save the bills for the replaced items. When in doubt, ask your lawyer – he or she will know what else to save.
3. Lost Wages
Any big accident will result in missed work. Save your timesheets.
4. Miscellaneous Expenses
This one is easier to miscalculate. Say you’ve gathered up your medical, auto body shop, and contractor bills, and all your timesheets. Have you missed anything?
Did you ride the bus to work while your car was being repaired? Have you saved your bus tickets? Did you save any records of your cab fares? These sorts of things are easy to overlook, and a good injury attorney will know to check for them.
Of course, if you have all of these, your case will probably end in negotiation, and your attorney will receive 1/3 of the total. If you’ve asked for $40,000, your attorney will receive just over $13,000.
The really big payouts don’t come from special, but from general, damages. These are the debts you’ve incurred that can’t be accurately measured with money.
Confused? It’s understandable – good attorneys have a much better grasp of this than most of us. Just understand this: the biggest payouts come from general damages. And only a good personal injury attorney will get those big payouts.
4 Record Types of General Damages
Everything here is much harder to prove. This generally means more time in court, which means both a bigger payout and a bigger percentage going to your lawyer. If you have a good case, however, it’s well worth your time.
1. Physical Suffering
We’re not talking here just about the pain you may have felt in a hospital. Physical suffering includes any and all pain you feel after being discharged. This includes permanent injuries, scarring, and anything else that might cause you discomfort on a daily basis.
2. Emotional Suffering
This one needs little explanation. Can’t get the accident out of your head? Did you require counseling, or trauma therapy? Are you having nightmares, and need medication?
Believe it or not, this kind of thing happens to a great many people. If you can prove it in court, your case is made.
3. Loss of Enjoyment
Are there things you used to do that you can no longer do? Do you miss them? If you can demonstrate this somehow, it’s a boon to your case.
4. Loss of Consortium
This one requires a simple explanation – basically, it’s a loss of physical intimacy. It both includes, but is not limited to, sex. Sometimes, the body is damaged in such a way that physical affection becomes difficult.
It’s unfortunately common enough in severe accidents that it has its own category in personal injury lawsuits.
How Much Will I Owe if I Have a Good Lawyer and a Good Case?
Naturally, you don’t want to think about losing, but if you do, and your lawyer works on contingency, you’ll owe nothing. If you don’t win, you don’t pay.
If you do win, however, your lawyer will deduct anywhere between 33 and 40% of the total payout, plus any expenses he or she accumulated during the trial. Some of those expenses can be substantial, so don’t be surprised when you see a final price tag that’s about 50% of the winnings.
Your lawyer, however, has paid for quite a bit of necessary things during the trial. Add up the witness fees, investigator fees, trial exhibits, and the postage necessary to get everything where it needs to go, and you’ve got a hefty total bill.
Like we said, it’s not uncommon for your personal injury attorney to get roughly half of the total settlement. But, like we said, it’s worth it.
After all, without a good lawyer, you wouldn’t be getting anything at all.