An injured person sits down and tries to find accident lawyers that can represent their interests.
They've seen the ads on TV.
They've looked through the search engines and found an array of personal injury attorneys trying to get their interest.
If you’re in the market for a personal injury attorney, the chances are pretty good you’re already facing mounting medical debt. You may also be facing a prolonged absence from work.
So how much is a personal injury attorney going to cost you?
The answer is more complicated than you might think.
Most lawyers, as is the norm in the industry, handle personal injury fees on a contingency basis, meaning they only take a portion of the settlement or verdict if they're successful in getting money for the client.
The percentages, however, are all over the place, and some accident lawyers have hidden costs.
Let’s take a close look at lawyer fees, including the different fee arrangements, the factors that might impact the cost of an attorney, and the various state limitations on what an attorney can charge.
The most common type of fee arrangement in a personal injury case is a contingent fee arrangement.
In a contingent fee arrangement, your lawyer agrees to accept a fixed percentage (usually around 33%) of the money you recover. If you don’t recover any money (either through a verdict or settlement), you don’t owe your lawyer a penny for the work they performed on your case.
A contingent fee arrangement is typically a good idea if you have a challenging case or you simply don’t have the money to pay an attorney upfront. However, if your case is very winnable and you have the funds, another type of fee arrangement may be more cost-effective.
Although the vast majority of personal injury cases are contingent fee cases, there are other types of fee arrangements:
Attorneys are expensive.
What’s more, the cost of hiring an attorney has been steadily rising.
Let’s take a look at some simple things you can do to keep attorney fees down:
Keep in mind that attorney fees are not set in stone. As is the case when hiring a babysitter or a contractor, you’re allowed to negotiate.
Before you negotiate, it’s a good idea to shop around and see what rate you can get for a comparable attorney in the area.
In all states, lawyer fees must be “reasonable” based on a number of factors, including the time and labor required, the novelty of the legal issue, and the time limitation imposed by the client or by the circumstances.
However, some states have passed laws that limit the fees attorneys can charge in more specific ways. Many of these laws apply only to certain types of legal services (such as how much an attorney can charge in a bankruptcy proceeding).
Below you’ll find a chart detailing any fee limitations relevant to personal injury lawsuits.
|Personal injury attorney fee limitations|
|California||Contingent fee limitations for medical malpractice cases only are as follows: 40% of initial $50,000 recovered, 33.3% of next $50,000, 25% of next $500,000, and 15% of any amount that exceeds $600,000.||CA. Bus. & Prof. Code § 6146|
|Connecticut||Contingent fee limitations for all personal injury cases are as follows: 33.3% of initial $300,000 recovered, 25% of the next $300,000, 20% of the next $300,000, 15% of the next $300,000, and 10% of any amount that exceeds $1.2 million.||Conn. Gen. Stat. § 52-251c|
|Delaware||Contingent fee limitations for all personal injury cases are as follows: 35% of the initial $100,000 recovered, 25% of the next $100,000, 10% of any amount that exceeds $200,000.||18 Del. C. § 6865|
|Florida||Contingent fee limitations for all malpractice cases are as follows: 30% of the initial $250,000 recovered, 10% of any amount that exceeds $250,000.||Art. I, §26, Fla. Const.|
|Illinois||Contingent fee limitations for all medical malpractice cases are as follows: 33.3% of the initial $150,000 recovered, 25% of $150,000 to $1 million, and 20% of any amount that exceeds $1 million.||735 ILCS 5/2-1114|
|Indiana||Attorney fees may not exceed 32% of any award made from the Patient Compensation Fund||Ind. Code § 34-18-18-1|
|Maine||Contingent fee limitations for all professional negligence cases are as follows: 33.3% of the initial $100,000 recovered, 25% of $100,000, and 20% of any amount that exceeds $200,000.|
|Massachusetts||Contingent fee limitations for medical malpractice cases as follows: 40% of initial $150,000, 33.33% of next $150,000, 30% of next $200,000, and 25% of any amount that exceeds $500,000.||Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 231, § 601.|
|Michigan||Contingent fee limitation is 33.33% for all personal injury cases.||MCR § 8.121(b)|
|Nevada||Contingent fee limitations for medical malpractice cases are as follows: 40% of initial $50,000, 33.33% of next $50,000, 25% of next $500,000, and 15% of any amount that exceeds $600,000.||Nev. Rev. Stat. § 7.095|
|New Hampshire||Contingent fee limitations for medical malpractice cases are as follows: 50% of initial $1,000, 40% of next $2,000, 33.33% of next $97,000, and 20% of any amount that exceeds $100,000||RSA § 507-C:8|
|New Jersey||Contingent fee limitations for all personal injury cases are as follows: 33.33% of initial $750,000, 30% of next $750,000, and 25% of next $750,000.||N.J.S.A. § 1:21-7|
|New Mexico||No limitations|
|New York||Contingent fee limitations for medical malpractice cases as follows: 30% of initial $250,000, 25% of next $250,000, 20% of next $500,000, 15% of next $250,000, and 10% of any amount that exceeds $1.25 million.||N.Y. Laws CVP. § 474-A|
|North Carolina||No limitations|
|North Dakota||No limitations|
|Oklahoma||Not to exceed 50% of the judgment in any case.||Okla. Stat. tit. 5 ch. 1 § 7|
|Oregon||No more than 20% of punitive damages awarded can be paid to an attorney; no limitations on economic damages.||ORS § 31.735|
|Rhode Island||No limitations|
|South Carolina||No limitations|
|South Dakota||No limitations|
|Tennessee||Contingent fees are limited to 33.33%.||Tenn. Code Ann. § 29.26.120|
|Utah||Contingent fees are limited to 33.33%.||Utah Code Ann. § 184.108.40.206|
|West Virginia||No limitations|
|Wisconsin||Contingency fee limitations for medical malpractice cases are as follows: 33.33% of the first $1 million, or 25% of the first $1 million recovered if liability is stipulated within time limits; 20% of any amount that exceeds $1 million.||Wis. Stat. § 655.013|
And here’s a chart detailing any fee limitations relevant to workers’ compensation claims.
|Workers’ compensation attorney fee limitations|
|Alabama||Fees are limited to 15% of the total award.||Ala. Code § 25-5-90(a)|
|Alaska||Fees may not be less than 10% of all sums in excess of $1,000 of compensation.||AS § 23.30.145|
|Arizona||Fees are limited to 25% of the total award.||AZ Rev Stat § 23-1069|
|Arkansas||Fees are limited to 25% of the total award and the employer of the injured worker is required to pay half of the fees.||AR Code § 11-9-715 (2014)|
|California||No limitations but fee must be approved by the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board.||CA LABOR § 4903|
|Connecticut||No limitations but fees must be approved by the Workers Compensation Commissioner.||Conn. Gen. Stat. § 31-327|
|Georgia||Fees are limited to 25% of the total settlement or the weekly benefit.||O.C.G.A. § 34-9-108 (a)|
|Illinois||Fees are limited to 20% of 364 weeks of permanent total disability payments||820 ILCS 305/16a|
|Indiana||Fees are limited to $200, plus 20% of the first $50,000 recovered, and 15% of any remaining balance.||Ind. Code § 22-3-1-4|
|Iowa||Fees are limited to those an attorney can prove would not have been paid to the injured employee if not for the attorney’s efforts.||Iowa Code 86.39|
|Kansas||Feels are limited to 25% of the total award.||KS Stat. § 44-536|
|Kentucky||Fees are limited to 20% of the first $25,000, 15% of the next $25,000, and 10% of the remainder with a total cap of $18,000.||KY. Rev. Stat. § 342.320|
|Louisiana||Fees are limited to 20% of the total award.||RS § 23:1141|
|Maine||Fees are limited to 30% of benefits accrued in a contested case, and 10% in the case of a lump sum settlement.||39-A MRSA § 325|
|Maryland||Fees are limited to 20% of the total award.||COMAR § 14.09.04.03|
|Massachusetts||Fees are limited to 20% of settlements where liability is established and 15% on settlements where liability is not established. If payment is ordered after trial, the insurer pays the attorney fees.||Mass. Gen. Laws ch.152 § 13A(10)|
|Michigan||Fees are limited to 30% of the benefits received unless the case is resolved through a redemption settlement, in which case fees are limited to 15% of the first $25,000, and 10% of the amount over that.||MCL § 317-1969-1|
|Minnesota||Fees are limited to 20% of the first $130,000 of compensation awarded and fees related to the same injury cannot exceed $26,000.||Minn. Stat. § 176.081|
|Mississippi||Fees are limited to 25% of the compensation received.||MS Code § 71-3-63|
|Montana||Fees are limited to 20% for cases settled without an order of the workers’ compensation judge, or 25% for cases that go to a hearing before the workers’ compensation judge.||MCA § 24.29.3802|
|New Hampshire||Fees are limited to 20% of the compensation received.||RSA § 281-A:1|
|New Jersey||Fees are limited to 20% of the compensation received.||NJ. Rev. Stat. § 34:15-64|
|New Mexico||Fees are limited to $16,500.||NM. Stat. § 52-1-54|
|New York||No limitation (a bill that would cap attorney’s fees is being considered in 2022)|
|North Carolina||No limitations.|
|North Dakota||Fees are limited to $185 per hour.||N.D.A.C. § 92-01-02-11.1|
|Oklahoma||A maximum of 10% of any award for contested temporary disability cases, and 20% of any award for permanent disability cases.||85A OK Stat § 85A-82|
|Oregon||Fees are limited to $26,792.||OAR § 438-015-0025|
|Pennsylvania||Fees are limited to 20% of the compensation received.||34 Pa. Code § 131.55|
|Rhode Island||Fees are limited to 20% of the compensation received.||R.I. Gen. Laws § 28-35-32|
|South Carolina||Fees are limited to 33.3% of the compensation received.||S.C. Code Regs. § 67-1205|
|South Dakota||Fees are limited to 35% of the compensation received.||SDCL § 62-4-39|
|Tennessee||Fees are limited to 20% of the compensation received.||Tenn. Code Ann. § 50-6-226(a)(1)|
|Texas||Fees are limited to 25% of the compensation received, and $200 per hour.||28 Tex. Admin. Code § 152.4(a)|
|Vermont||Fees are limited to 20% with a $9,000.00 maximum.||21 V.S.A. § 678|
|Washington||Fees are limited to 30% of the increase in award secured by attorney services.||RCW § 51.52.120|
|West Virginia||Fees are limited to 20% of the compensation received.||WV Code § 23-5-16|
|Wisconsin||Fees are limited to 20% of the compensation received.||Wis. Code § 102.26|
Keep in mind that if you agree to a contingency fee agreement for your workers’ compensation claim, the agreement will be subject to any contingency fee agreement limitations in the state (in addition to any specific workers’ compensation claim fee limitations).
Still have questions about the cost of hiring an attorney?
Let’s see if we can answer some of them:
A good general rule of thumb is that inexperienced lawyers charge less than experienced lawyers. However, this oversimplifies things.
A lawyer’s fee depends on a number of factors, including:
If you agree to a contingent fee agreement, your lawyer will receive their percentage of the award regardless of how long it takes to obtain the award. This is typically the case with a flat fee arrangement as well.
On the other hand, if you pay a retainer, your lawyer is required to return any funds that remain once the case is resolved (i.e., funds your attorney has not earned).
Consider the following hypothetical scenario:
In cases like the one described above, the attorney who is fired will typically place a lien on the award to make sure they are paid before anyone else.
To help avoid fee disputes, it’s a good idea to put your fee agreement in writing. Nevertheless, fee disputes do happen even when agreements are in writing.
If you have a disagreement over fees, talk to your attorney. In most cases, the issue can be resolved through a civil conversation. If you’re unsuccessful, contact your local state bar association. Most state bar associations offer a service in which a representative helps to resolve fee disputes.