How Do Contingency Fee Agreements Work?

If you’ve been injured in an accident, you’re facing a lot of uncertainty. You may be wondering, for example, how to pay the medical bills your insurance company won’t cover. Or perhaps you don’t know what to do when your sick days from work run out and you begin to lose wages. You may even be wondering how you’ll take care of your family. These are questions no one should have to worry about, especially when your injuries are due to someone else’s negligence.

Personal injury claims can provide you and your loved one with the resources to move on. But these can also be confusing. You may have heard that personal injury firms offer their services on a “contingency-fee” basis. What does this mean, and how does it affect your personal injury claim?

What Is a Contingency-Fee Basis?

It’s no secret that legal proceedings can be costly. Victims of accidents are already struggling under the weight of medical bills and the prospect of continued rehabilitation. They may not have the funds to provide for their families, let alone pay legal fees. For this reason, personal injury attorneys offer their services on a contingency-fee basis. This essentially means that you’ll only pay an attorney’s fee if you win a settlement.

The main benefit of the contingency fee agreement is that you have little or no upfront expenses to pay. When or if you win, you agree to pay your attorney a percentage of your recovery as a fee. If you lose your case, you won’t owe your attorney anything.

Contingency-fee agreements are most common with personal injury cases, when a plaintiff is seeking recompense for injuries. Depending on the nature and extent of your injuries, some lawyers may not choose to offer a contingency agreement. This is completely dependent on the firm’s policies, and sometimes, there are applicable claim limits for your accident or injury. In states with extensive tort law reform for example, there may be fewer attorneys willing to offer a contingency-fee service, since there are stricter caps on what you can sue for, and for how much.

What Will I Owe if I Win?

The next logical question that a victim of personal injury has is, “what percentage of my claim will I owe my attorney?” This is completely dependent on the lawyer’s terms and policies. Often, the percentage is a third, though it may be more or less, depending on who you work with. Always talk to your attorney about the percentage fee before signing any agreements.

What Should I Know Before Signing an Agreement?

In general, there are a few things every personal injury victim should know before entering into a contingency-fee agreement with any law firm:

  • Even though a lawyer will take a percentage of your claim, the IRS will treat your claim as if you received 100% of it. In other words, you’ll be taxed for the entire settlement amount. Consider this in your calculations before hiring any personal injury attorney.
  • You can pay your lawyer over time. Again, the fee structure will be spelled out in your contingency agreement. Your lawyer may even prefer to be paid over time to aid in tax planning. Always know the policy before signing any official agreements.
  • You won’t owe anything until your case settles. It’s important to emphasize that you won’t officially owe anything until after the case settles. If you win, you’ll owe attorney’s fees. If you don’t, you won’t owe your attorney anything, but you still may owe the courts filing costs or other expenses.

Always be familiar with the exact terms of your contingency-agreement before entering a partnership with an attorney. This will help maximize the chances of a positive outcome.