The most prudent decision you can make following an accident and injury caused due to the negligence of someone else is to hire a competent personal injury attorney in Florida. The right lawyer can provide you a robust legal representation and fight hard to prove the other party’s liability in order to maximize your compensation.
However, many injured victims and their loved ones are concerned about the costs of hiring a personal injury lawyer in Florida. Can you afford to pay for the lawyer’s fees? Let us examine this issue in detail.
Contingency Fees for Florida Personal Injury Attorneys
Almost all personal injury attorneys in Florida represent their clients on a ‘contingency fee’ basis. This means that you don’t need to pay by the hour, and you don’t need to pay anything upfront. Instead, the attorney will charge a percentage of your proceeds from the jury award or the settlement amount, most likely the latter.
You don’t owe any fees to the injury attorney if they don’t win the case for you. In other words, you pay nothing from your own pocket under all circumstances under a contingency fee arrangement. This type of a fee structure makes an experienced legal team affordable. It also means that your case has solid merit. Lawyers will only take those cases that have a reasonable likelihood of success. Otherwise, they will end up doing all the work for you without any compensation.
Court Costs if the Case Goes to Trial
There are certain court costs that you would need to pay if your personal injury lawsuit goes to trial. This happens where you and the defendant cannot agree to a settlement. Trial related expenses may include fees related to:
- Police reports
- Filing fees
- Medical records
- Expert witness fees
- Trial exhibits
- Court reporters
- Copying and postage charges
Contingency Fee Guidelines for Personal Injury Attorneys in Florida
The Florida Bar Rules of Professional Conduct has created guidelines for contingency fee agreements made by attorneys in Florida. The rules require attorneys to explain specific fee percentages and to have their clients sign written contracts. The agreement should also confirm that the client signed an acknowledgement of Client’s Rights after properly reviewing it.
This acknowledgment should explain that the client has a right to bargain about the percentage rate like any other service contract. With that said, contingency fee contracts are required to contain a cancellation clause. The contract must read that the client won’t owe the personal injury attorney any fees if they cancel the agreement within 3 business days. However, they will be required to reimburse the lawyer for any expenses that was advanced by the attorney on their behalf.
The Florida Bar Rules of Professional Conduct has also established a standard structure for personal injury contingency fee. It requires agreements with higher contingency fees to be court approved.
The following fee structure is suggested by the guidelines for complaints where the other side’s lawyer is yet to file an answer to the lawsuit:
- 33 1/3 percent for personal injury settlements that are up to 1 million dollars
- 30 percent of the personal injury settlement amount between 1 – 2 million dollars
- 20 percent of the personal injury settlement amount exceeding 2 million dollars
Higher contingency fees can be charged by personal injury lawyers once the other side’s attorney files an answer to their lawsuit, responds with a settlement or arbitration request, or doesn’t respond to the complaint within the stipulated time frame. The attorney may charge as per the following fee structure:
- 40% of the compensation up to 1 million dollars
- 30% of the compensation amount between 1 – 2 million dollars
- 20% of the compensation exceeding 2 million dollars
The fee structure may again change if the other side accepts their liability, and a trial is held only for determining the amount of compensation. The following contingency fee structure may be charged by the personal injury attorney if this happens:
- 33 1/3% fees on compensation up to 1 million dollars
- 20% of the compensation amount between 1 – 2 million dollars
- 15% of the total damage amount exceeding 2 million dollars
The injured person’s lawyer may also receive an additional 5% in fees for any recoveries received following an appeal or another post-judgement action.
Contingency Fees for Florida Medical Liability Claims
Contingency fee guidelines are set by Article 1 §26 of the Florida Constitution for medical injury cases. Legal fee is outlined under this article on the basis of an injured individual’s “right to fair compensation.”
Any customary and reasonable costs expended by an attorney on behalf of the client is recoverable. This is over and above the portion of damages described in the constitution. In case of medical liability claims, a personal injury lawyer may charge:
- 30% of damages up to $250,000 (plus any other expenses)
- 10% of damages over $250,000 (plus any other expenses)
An injured client may allow the attorney to collect a higher percentage from the recovered damages if they choose. However, clients are required to sign a fee increase agreement for it to be held valid.
Other Types of Personal Injury Lawyer Fee Arrangements
There are several other types of fee arrangements even though the vast majority of lawsuits are contingency fee based. These are:
1. Hourly rate
This is one of the most common types of fee arrangements for cases that are not personal injury lawsuits. Lawyers charge on a flat per-hour basis. They may choose to track their time in hourly fractions. The attorney sends a billing statement documenting all the work completed and the time taken to complete that work. The statement is generally sent once a month to be paid.
2. Flat fees
Flat fee is charged by some lawyers for handling a case. This type of fee structure is for cases that are mostly predictable and straightforward. For instance, preparation of a will or bankruptcy lawsuit. While it is uncommon for personal injury lawsuits to have a flat fee structure, it is not entirely unheard of.
3. Retainer fees
A retainer fee or a deposit is what clients pay in advance. The retainer fee will be placed by the attorney in a trust account. The attorney will withdraw money from the trust account as they perform work. Any leftover amount in the trust account following the legal representation gets returned to the client. A retainer fee can form part of any of the above-mentioned arrangements.
Factors that may Impact the Attorney’s Fee
The basic thumb rule is that experienced and resourceful attorneys with a proven track record usually charge more than relatively inexperienced lawyers. However, this may be an oversimplification of things. Here are a few factors that determine the overall fee charged by a personal injury attorney:
- Amount of damages sought
- Strength of the lawsuit
- Reputation and experience of the attorney
- Time limitations imposed by circumstances or the client
- Difficulty or novelty of the legal issue
- Length and nature of the attorney-client relationship
- Typical fee charged in the local area for similar services
Ask For Your Contingent Fee Agreement in Florida
You should receive and read your contingent fee agreement before you retain the services of any personal injury attorney. All lawyers are required to put contingency fee arrangements in writing as part of the agreement. This document will also list your own obligations, which makes it vital that you read it carefully.
Your attorney will receive the settlement check on your behalf from the defendant or their insurance carrier upon settlement. They will let you know the amount withheld towards their fee. When you have a skilled and dedicated Florida personal injury attorney on your side, they will do everything within the ambit of law to ensure you receive the maximum compensation for your injuries and losses.