If you are in an car accident that results in injury and/or destruction of property, you may decide to sue for reimbursement for your pain, medical expenses, and lost wages. An attorney specializing in personal injury can help you navigate this process. Your attorney may be able to settle your case out of court, or you may end up going to trial before a judge or jury.

Most personal injury lawyers charge on contingency, which means that rather than paying costs up front, you agree to pay the case expenses and attorney fees from any settlement you receive. Generally if you don’t win the case, the lawyer will waive his or her fees.

Contingency may be charged as a flat percentage rate of any money you are awarded, or on a sliding scale, where the lawyer gets a higher percentage if the settlement is large, a lower percentage if the award is smaller. Some lawyers take a percentage of the gross award -- the amount you are awarded before expenses are deducted -- while others will take a percentage of the net award, the amount you are left after court costs. Be sure to understand how your attorney has calculated fees before signing a contract.

Any time you hire an attorney the primary cost is the time your lawyer spends on your case. Other costs depend on whether your case is settled outside of court or not. Costs increase the longer a case goes on and particularly if comes to trial. Expenses that may be included in the final fee include:

  • Filing fees
  • Court Costs
  • Paralegal Time
  • Secretarial / staff time
  • Postage charges
  • Photocopying
  • Deposition and court reporter costs
  • Computer research related costs
  • Private investigator fees
  • Messenger and process server fees
  • Experts, consultants, and witness fees
  • Travel expenses

The advantage of hiring a lawyer on contingency is that if you lose or are unable to settle your case, you will pay little or nothing. Your attorney will benefit financially only if you win your case and should be motivated to secure the greatest possible settlement for you.

There are disadvantages to contingency fee arrangements to consider. If your case is settled easily, you may be left feeling your attorney did not completely earn his or her fee. And if you win, you will be responsible for paying your lawyer’s fees and expenses even if that ends up leaving you with an amount less than the medical expenses and auto repair or replacement costs you incurred as the result of the original car accident.