What are my Rights as a Client in a Contingency Fee Case?
Contingency fees are used in many personal injury cases as a substitute for up-front retainer fees or pay-by-the-hour fee arrangements. Under the typical contingency-fee contract, you pay no money up front. Instead, your attorney collects a fee through a percentage of the amount rewarded to you in the case. If you lose the case or do not receive an award by way of settlement or trial judgment, then your attorney does not get paid a fee.
In 1986, the Florida Supreme Court approved a Statement of Clients’ Rights to help plaintiffs in contingency-fee cases fully understand their rights and their attorneys’ obligations. This statement must be read and signed by clients and attorneys in most contingency fee cases, and it is a source of valuable information for any plaintiff seeking an attorney. Here, in short-hand, are some of the most pertinent provisions:
You have the right to bargain with your attorney – and with other attorneys – until you are satisfied with the attorney’s fee. You may also question each attorney about their experience handling cases similar to yours and any special training or knowledge they have. Your lawyer must tell you about any other attorneys that might be involved in your case before signing the contract. You can cancel within three days of signing the contract for any reason and pay only the actual costs your attorney accrued during that time. If you cancel after that period, you may be required to pay a fee for the work your lawyer completed.
You should know in advance how fees will be handled. Discuss whether your lawyer’s percentage comes out of the gross reward or after costs are paid. If you lose the case, you should know whether you will be responsible for any portion of your own attorney’s costs or the fees, costs, and expenses of the other side. If you may be responsible for any costs, you have the right to a regular accounting of how your pre-paid money is spent or how much your attorney is spending on your case. You should receive a closing statement at the end of the case covering all expenses, the amount recovered, and the lawyer’s fee. You must approve this statement before any of your reward is disbursed.
Information and Decisions
Your attorney must respond to your reasonable questions about the progress of the case to the best of his or her ability. He must communicate any and all offers to you and let you make the final decision whether or not to accept the offer(s) and settle the case.
At Wagner, McLaughlin & Whittemore, we want our clients to feel confident that their case is in the right hands. To that end, we ensure that our clients understand their rights, and we are happy to answer any questions you have. If you have been injured in an accident, contact us today for a free consultation.