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How Much Does an Auto Accident Lawyer Cost?

After you've been injured in an automobile accident, it's natural to think about hiring an auto accident lawyer. If the accident was someone else's fault, they should help pay for your medical bills, the damage to your vehicle, and your pain and suffering. But if you've never before hired an auto accident lawyer, you may not know if you can afford to hire one.

Two Types of Legal Fees for Auto Accident Cases

Personal injury lawyers, including auto accident injury lawyers, usually charge for their services in one of two ways: contingency fee or an hourly billing rate. It's important to understand the differences between these two types of rates and what they mean to you.

Contingency Fees in Auto Accident Lawsuits

By far, contingency fees are the more common way to pay an auto accident lawyer. When you hire a lawyer on contingency you are agreeing to pay the attorney only if he or she is able to obtain a financial settlement or judgment on your behalf. If the attorney cannot win or settle the case in your favor, then you owe no legal fees to the auto accident attorney.

Contingency fees are usually calculated as a percentage of the gross award (before expenses are deducted) or the net award (after expenses are deducted). You'll also be responsible for reimbursing the attorneys for any expenses they incur on your behalf. If your case is unsuccessful, you may be required to reimburse the attorney for any expenses incurred on your behalf, but many personal injury lawyers will waive these expenses if they cannot obtain an award on their client's behalf.

Most automobile accident attorneys charge approximately the same percentage contingency fee, though that fee can vary from region to region. When discussing contingency fees with an auto accident lawyer, you can try to negotiate a lower percentage.

The primary advantage of a contingency fee is that you will pay no legal fees if the attorney is unable to get a monetary settlement or judgment. Also, because the attorney stands to profit from your case, he or she should be motivated to obtain the largest settlement or judgment possible.

Hourly Rates in Auto Accident Cases

When you meet with auto accident attorneys, you may find that some are unwilling to take your case on contingency, but do offer to represent you for an hourly fee. In this case, you'd pay the attorney for the actual time he or she spends on your lawsuit regardless of whether you win any money. You'd also be responsible for paying for the auto accident lawyer's expenses.

If you can only find automobile accident lawyers who are willing to take your case for an hourly rate, then this may be a sign that you have a weak case. If the lawyer does not want to handle your case on contingency, he or she may not think it's winnable or profitable.

Evaluating an Auto Accident Lawyer's Fees

Regardless of whether you hire an attorney on contingency or by paying an hourly rate, it's important to remember that if you get a cash settlement or judgment, you'll still be responsible for paying the lawyer's fees and expenses-even if it ultimately leaves you with less money than the sum of all of your accident-related bills.

When meeting with attorneys, ask them to walk you through a few hypothetical but realistic settlement/judgment scenarios, so you can understand how much money you'd receive. What size settlement or judgment is realistic? How much would be deducted from that award to pay the attorney's fees? How much would be deducted from that award to pay the attorney's expenses? How much money would you be left with? You'll then have to judge whether the attorney's numbers are reasonable and realistic.