Fortunately, most Florida personal injury lawyers operate on a contingency fee agreement. What does this mean? It means that no money is paid up front. We only get paid when we recover money for you.
This keeps the doors of the courthouse open to the injured party. All you need is a justifiable case and a willing personal injury attorney.
In Florida, a contingency fee agreement must be in writing and signed. A personal injury lawyer in Florida cannot collect a fee if the agreement is not in writing and signed by the client.
You should never feel pressured to sign an agreement with an attorney. You have the right to read the agreement carefully. You have the right to ask questions.
A personal injury claim handled by an attorney must follow Florida’s rules of professional conduct. However, lawyers can charge less (or more) than the amounts discussed below if a client agrees in writing.
- 33% for any recovery up to $1 million if your case is settled before filing an answer to a lawsuit.
- 40% of any recovery up to $1 million if you settle or win your case at trial at any point after filing an answer.
- 30% of any additional recovery between $1 million and $2 million—either by settlement or trial verdict.
- An additional 20% for any additional recovery over $2 million—either by settlement or trial verdict.
- At any time, a person you are suing can admit that he or she is responsible but not enter an agreement regarding the settlement amount. In such situations, your attorney may charge up to 33.33% of any recovery up to $1 million, 20% of any recovery between $1 million and $2 million, and 15% of any recovery over $2 million.
- If after trial or settlement your case is appealed or your attorney has to file papers to help you collect your money, an additional 5% can be added to his or her fees.
Medical Malpractice Contingency Fees
Florida law limits the fee that a personal injury lawyer can collect in a medical malpractice claim. In these cases, a client is entitled to at least 70% of the first $250,000 awarded and at least 90% of any damages awarded in excess of $250,000 (excluding costs).
However, attorneys handling medical malpractice claims can charge a higher percentage than the usual 10% to 30% with your signed and notarized consent. In most medical malpractice cases, our firm charges a higher contingency fee because of the inherent difficulty in going against doctors and hospitals.
Sometimes other lawyers will ask our law firm to co-counsel cases with them. We are a trial law firm, so we take cases into litigation. Other lawyers who may be unwilling or ill-equipped to take cases to trial will come to us at the beginning of a case and ask us to work with them.
In such situations, the fees are divided between the lawyers. The client will not pay any additional fees. So if the client agreement calls for a 40% fee to take a case to trial and the client’s lawyer co-counsels with another law firm, the client’s fee will not change; the two attorneys will split that 40% as they negotiate between themselves.
Fees Awarded by the Court
Sometimes, you may get an award of attorney’s fees as part of your recovery or settlement. The amount can be more or less than the amount that you’ve already agreed to pay your attorney. Most contingency fee agreements discuss this possibility, so you should know from the beginning how this situation would be handled.
Common Expenses in Personal Injury Cases
A personal injury lawyer’s goal is to maximize the net amount of money his or her client gets after expenses and fees.
Would you rather have your case settled for $50,000 and receive a $20,000 net recovery or have your case settled for $100,000 and receive a $10,000 net recovery? It’s the attorney’s job to make sure that your net recovery comes first.
A discussion of expenses needs to happen in the first meeting and continue throughout the length of your representation so there aren’t any surprises.
For example, some law firms use private investigators to conduct an intake. An intake is an interview between the client and a representative of the law firm to gather facts about the case. We’ve seen some firms charge $1,000 to have the investigator conduct an intake. The client then starts his or her case a thousand dollars in the hole because of the investigator fee.
Other firms, like ours, do our own intakes—so there is no cost to the client.
Some law firms charge clients for postage, copies, mileage, and legal research expenses. We include almost all of these costs in our fee and use digital document delivery whenever possible. If we are going to incur additional expenses, we let our clients know from the beginning.
Expenses increase as an injury case goes forward. Expenses are low when a case is in the pre-suit phase. Expenses get higher once a case is in litigation. Expenses really start to add up after mediation when a case is being prepared for trial.
This is especially true because expert witnesses and doctors cost a lot of money.
If we take your case to trial, we will need to have at least one of your doctors come to the trial to testify on your behalf in front of the jury. Doctors make a ton of money. It’s not uncommon for doctors to charge $1,000 or more an hour to come to court to testify on your behalf.
Major expenses that you may or may not see in your Tampa personal injury case include:
Medical records: medical providers are in the business to make money. They do not turn over your records for free. A lot of medical providers try to charge us more for your medical records than is permitted under the law.
Under the federal high-tech statute, electronic records must be inexpensive for patients to obtain. As of late 2018, that cost is $6.50 plus postage.
For the last six or seven years, medical providers have been trying to stop us from getting medical records at such a reasonable cost. That’s because in the old days they could charge a dollar per page, and they still want to do that even with the federal high-tech statute. Providing medical records has become a mini business for medical providers.
Happily, after much litigation and fighting, medical providers are beginning to understand that they have to provide us digital records at a very low cost.
However, sometimes we just need to pay the price to get paper medical records. Sometimes we have a difficult medical provider and need to move your case quickly, so we determine that it’s not worth it to slow your case down in order to fight the records battle. Of course, we handle all this for you.
Police reports: we can get these online for $16 (as of late 2018). These are usually available within a few days of an auto accident in Tampa.
Investigator: sometimes we need to hire an investigator to help us gather evidence. Why? Because if the client or his/her attorney gathers it, it’s inadmissible (cannot be used) at trial.
An investigator is a neutral party. He or she can talk to witnesses, get sworn statements from them, and even take pictures for us.
The investigators whom we use usually cost between $300 and $800. Again, we will discuss this with you in advance to ensure that hiring an investigator is a good use of your financial resources.
Depositions: we will often take depositions of witnesses in a personal injury case. A deposition is a sworn, out-of-court statement that is often videotaped and transcribed so that we can use in court. It is an extremely important tool in discovery (the process during which each party in a lawsuit compels the other side to turn over important evidence such as documents).
To make a deposition happen, we have to hire a court reporter to come and type for us. We often also need a videographer. Depending on the length of the deposition, these costs are usually between $300 and $1,500.
Experts: a personal injury case may need experts on liability, medicine, and damages.
Example #1: In a Tampa slip and fall case, we may need an expert who has an engineering background to talk about the material used on the floor.
Example #2: In a negligent security case, we may need a security expert to evaluate whether the security systems and procedures used by a business were insufficient (i.e. if someone was assaulted at a bar). This expert should also know how to testify in a convincing manner at a trial.
Example #3: In a motor vehicle case, we may need an expert accident reconstructionist to help us our motor vehicle lawyers determine how fast the other person was driving and/or how hard one car hit another.
Example #4: In almost all personal injury cases, we will need to bring in a doctor or another medical professional such as a radiologist to help prove the nature and severity of the injuries our client suffered.
As you might expect, experts can get really expensive.
The cost for experts varies from field to field, but doctors are generally the most expensive.
We always talk with our clients in advance to discuss the costs to avoid any unpleasant surprises when wrapping up the case. We use a case management system that allows us to share data such as expenses with our clients in real time. That means when an expense comes in, you’ll know about it immediately.
Attorneys and their clients need to keep talking about costs as a case continues, as these expenses can impact the settlement value of the case.
For example, we recently settled a case for $40,000 without going to trial. The maximum amount available under the other party’s insurance policy was $50,000. Because of the experts we needed to hire to bolster this case, we knew that it would cost $10,000 to get $50,000. In this particular case, it made sense for client to settle for an otherwise feral deal of $40,000 instead of continuing litigation.
The Costs of Filing and Serving a Lawsuit in Florida
As of late 2018, this cost is $400. We totally anticipate that this cost will rise in the future. However, right now it is $400 to get your case filed.
We also need to serve the paperwork that we file in court to the person whom we are suing. The cost for service of process is usually between $50 and $200. In rare cases, these costs can exceed $200; this only happens if we have a very hard time finding the person whom we need to serve.
Even though as a practical matter we are going after an insurance company to pay your damages, we still technically have to sue the person who caused the accident.
Also, we generally do not sue your insurance company. Exceptions would be for an uninsured motorist claim or a bad faith claim against your insurance company (i.e. your homeowner’s insurance wrongfully denied your legitimate claim).