You may have questions regarding how an attorney is paid after handling a personal injury claim. Generally speaking, most personal injury attorneys agree to accept a portion of the money their client recovers as the fee for services. This agreement or arrangement is called a contingency fee. The Florida Bar Association and the established ethics rules require that a lawyer and his/her client enter into a written agreement. The agreement must outline the portion of the recovery that the attorney will receive. The fee is typically expressed in the contract as a percentage of the recovery. This fee may increase if the case must be tried or in the event that the claim is appealed.
The Rules of Professional Conduct, which regulates the practice of Florida attorneys, provides limitations as to what an attorney can charge a client under a contingency fee agreement. The rules state that if the settlement of your claim occurs before the filing of an ‘Answer’ or the expiration of the time period provided for such action, the fee is 33 1/3 percent of any recovery up to $1 million. Approximately 80 – 90% of all claims in Florida fall within this fee arrangement. An ‘Answer’ is a legal document filed by the Defendant in response to a Plaintiff’s lawsuit. The rules require that an Answer be filed within twenty (20) days after receipt of the Complaint. An attorney’s fee can and, typically, will increase if your claim must be litigated. After the filing of an Answer, the maximum attorney’s fee that you should expect is 40 percent of any recovery up to $1 million.
Other fees may apply, but this summarizes approximately 95+% of all claims in Florida.
On a side note, many of you have heard the phrase, “No recovery, No fee”. This is fairly accurate. The typical agreement that you enter into with a personal injury attorney should state that the lawyer will not get paid any fees unless you win your case. However, if you read the agreement in its entirety, you will likely find language in the contract that states the attorney may assess costs such as filing fees with the court, deposition/witness fees, mediation fees, and other expenses that the law firm incurs as a result of your personal injury claim. If you successfully settle your claim or obtain a Final Judgement, these expenses may be deducted from your share of the recovery. However, what happens if you don’t make a recovery? Can your attorney still charge you for the expenses that the law firm has incurred? The short answer is YES. But, in most cases, if not all, Brannon & Brannon, will work with the client and more often than not, waive these expenses if a recovery is not obtained on your behalf.
Remember to always ask your attorney for an itemized billing statement of all expenses incurred by his/her law firm. It is required under the rules that the attorney provide you with a copy. If you need more information regarding attorney’s fees, please visit the Florida Bar’s website at http://www.floridabar.org or you may contact their consumer hotline at 1-(866)-352-0707.
C. Paul Brannon, Esq.