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Do I Have to Pay My Personal Injury Lawyer if I Lose My Case?

Posted by Inna Gorin | Jun 16, 2022

Most people who need a lawyer can anticipate this need coming. In personal injury cases, however, the need for a lawyer arises from unforeseen circumstances. Those who've been hurt because of another's negligent or reckless behavior are entitled to recover damages from the wrongdoer, but the victims probably haven't been saving up to pay an attorney for such an occasion. 

Because of the unique nature of personal injury cases, and the right of injured parties to seek compensation, injury attorneys don't usually ask for up-front payment when they take the case. Instead, injury attorneys take the case on contingency, meaning the lawyer gets paid when the victim gets paid. What if you lose your case, though? Do you owe your lawyer even though you didn't win?

How Personal Injury Lawyers are Paid

Most personal injury attorneys are paid through contingency fee structures. Generally, the contingency fee structure between a client and a personal injury attorney will range from 30% to 40%, meaning if you win your case, the attorney will take as their fee the agreed-upon percentage from the winnings. 

Sometimes, the fees can vary depending on whether the case goes to trial. For example, your agreement may set forth a 35% contingency fee if your case settles before trial and a 45% fee if your case goes to trial and you win.  

California Contingency Fees

Each state has different laws concerning lawyer contingency fees. Under Section 6147 of California’s Business and Professions Code, contingency fee agreements between personal injury attorneys and their clients should be in writing and include:

  • “A statement of the contingency fee rate that the client and attorney have agreed upon.”
  • “A statement as to how disbursements and costs incurred in connection with the prosecution or settlement of the claim will affect the contingency fee and the client's recovery.”
  • “A statement as to what extent, if any, the client could be required to pay any compensation to the attorney for related matters that arise out of their relationship not covered by their contingency fee contract. This may include any amounts collected for the plaintiff by the attorney.”

Common Fee Structures for Injury Attorneys

In addition to the contingency fee structure, there are other fee agreements you might encounter in seeking an attorney for your personal injury case. 

Flat Rate Fee Structure: 

  • Flat rate fees are generally paid before the commencement of legal services. These fee structures are uncommon in personal injury cases and usually concern legal services for routine matters that can be resolved quickly.

Hourly Rate Fee Structure:

  • Hourly rates are probably what most people think of when they think of attorney fees. An hourly rate will often be billed monthly to the client and sometimes used in personal injury cases or ongoing work. 

Retainer Fees:

  • Retainer fees constitute a method of payment where the client pays the total hourly rate up front. The attorney and client agree to a predetermined amount, and the lawyer collects their hourly rate from the already paid sum. 

Additional Costs Related to Your Case 

If you've entered into a contingency fee agreement with your attorney and you lose, you probably won't have to pay your lawyer for their time. That being said, you might still have to pay for other costs associated with administering your case. 

Additional costs may include:

  • Administrative fees
  • Court filing fees
  • Deposition costs
  • Case Research fees
  • Expert witness fees

These costs will range in amount, but they can add up during the preparation of your case and subsequent trial. Filing fees can amount to a few hundred dollars per filing, and case research may require the acquisition of certified copies of medical records or police reports.

Even when winning your case, these costs can still impact your ultimate payout. Your contingency agreement may call for the attorney's percentage to be taken from the gross payout before subtracting costs, leaving you with the burden of the costs. Alternatively, the agreement may call for the attorney's percentage to be taken after costs are deducted, ensuring the attorney and the client share some cost burden. 

How to Communicate with Your Personal Injury Lawyer About the Fee Structure

Your fee structure, whether contingency or some other arrangement, should be clearly set forth in writing. If you have questions, you shouldn't hesitate to ask, and your lawyer shouldn't hesitate to explain the details thoroughly. 

Injury Justice Law Firm are top-rated personal injury attorneys serving victims of negligence throughout Southern California, including Los Angeles County, Orange County, Santa Barbara County, Ventura County, Riverside, and San Bernardino.

We are located at 1999 Avenue of the Stars, 11th Fl., Los Angeles, CA 90067, and in the San Fernando Valley at 14401 Sylvan St #112 Van Nuys, CA 91401.

Call our law firm at (818) 781-1570 for a free consultation, or contact our office online.  

About the Author

Inna Gorin

Inna Gorin, the founding Partner of Injury Justice Law Firm modeled the Firm after her ideals and principles of what skilled, aggressive and tenacious representation of individual clients should embody. Ms. Gorin's mission is to level the playing field, and provide her clients with the same level...


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