Lawyers' Fees in Your Personal Injury Case (2024)

Personal injury lawyers usually work on a "contingency fee" basis, meaning their fee is dependent on a favorable outcome for the client.

In most personal injury cases, a lawyer's services are offered on a "contingency fee" basis. If you win your case or reach a settlement, you will pay your lawyer a percentage of the money you receive. But if you lose your case, you don't have to pay your lawyer a fee. Win or lose, you'll probably have to pay some or all "costs and expenses" like court filing fees.

If you're thinking about hiring a personal injury lawyer, here's what to expect when it comes to lawyers' fees:

  • Contingency fees are a common fee arrangement when you hire a lawyer to sue someone who negligently or intentionally injured you.
  • Contingency fees aren't cheap—you'll probably end up paying your lawyer 33% to 40% of your final settlement or court award. But you pay no lawyer fees if you lose your case.
  • If you are paying a lawyer a contingency fee, make sure your written fee agreement specifies the lawyer's percentage and spells out who will pay which costs and expenses and when costs and expenses will be paid.
  • You can also pay for legal advice by the hour or enter into other types of fee arrangements.

Contingency Fee Percentages: What Percentage Do Lawyers Take for a Personal Injury Case?

In most personal injury cases, a lawyer's contingency fee is between 33% and 40% of whatever compensation the lawyer gets for you. A lawyer who takes a case on a contingency basis is making a high-risk, high-reward gamble on your case. You get the benefit of not having to come up with a lot of money upfront in exchange for giving the lawyer a pretty high stake in your case.

In the majority of cases, a personal injury lawyer will receive 33% (or one-third) of any settlement or award. For example, if you receive a settlement of $30,000 from an at-fault party's insurance company, you would keep $20,000 and your lawyer would take $10,000.

Win or lose, you will likely be responsible for reimbursing your lawyer for some expenses the lawyer paid to investigate, negotiate, and pursue your claim (called "costs and expenses"). It is to your advantage to have the costs and expenses deducted before the lawyer's fee is calculated.

You can always try to negotiate for a reduced contingency fee. For example, if you've already investigated your case and gathered all the documents you need to support your claim, some lawyers might be willing to accept a lower percentage contingency fee.

Learn more about hiring and working with an attorney and when it makes sense to represent yourself.

The "Sliding Scale" Option

Some lawyers offer a contingency fee arrangement that takes into account the extent to which a case has progressed before settlement. This is often called a "sliding scale." For example, if your lawyer can settle your case solely by negotiating with an insurance adjuster, your lawyer might agree to receive a 25% contingency fee.

But if your lawyer has to file a personal injury lawsuit in court before you accept a settlement offer, your lawyer's fee percentage will likely be the standard 33% (40% if the case is scheduled for trial). The closer your case gets to trial, the more work your attorney will have to put into the case, and the higher the contingency fee percentage is likely to be.

Sometimes a lawyer's fee percentage might vary based on the complexity of the case. A lawyer might want a higher percentage of your recovery when your case is particularly complicated or risky, but accept a lower percentage when you have a straightforward case that is likely to settle quickly.

Costs and Expenses in a Personal Injury Case

Most personal injury lawyers will cover routine costs and expenses as they come up, and then deduct them from your share of the settlement or court award. It's rare for a personal injury lawyer to charge a client for costs and expenses as they become due.

Costs and expenses in a personal injury case may include:

  • copying fees for medical records and police reports
  • expert witness fees
  • postage
  • court filing fees
  • investigators
  • depositions
  • transcripts, and
  • trial exhibits.

Costs and expenses can add up quickly, easily reaching thousands of dollars. It's common for lawyers' fees and costs and expenses to total between 45% to 60% of your settlement, sometimes more.

For example, suppose your personal injury case settles for $30,000 after you file a lawsuit. You have to reimburse your lawyer for costs and expenses totaling $6,000. Your lawyer will deduct $6,000 off the top of your settlement, leaving $24,000. Then your lawyer's fee will be $7,920 (33% of $24,000), leaving you with $16,080.

Some lawyers might try to deduct their fee first and then deduct costs and expenses, which will leave you with a smaller piece of the pie. Make sure your fee agreement says that costs will be deducted before your lawyer's fee is calculated.

Your Lawyer Will Receive the Settlement Check

Your settlement check will probably go to your lawyer first. Your lawyer will deposit the check in a special account. Your lawyer will pay any liens against your settlement (like for unpaid bills to your healthcare providers or insurers). Then your lawyer will deduct costs and expenses and legal fees consistent with your fee agreement.

Your lawyer should provide you with an itemized list of deductions. If you have a problem with your lawyer's bill, your local or state bar association likely has a fee dispute arbitration program to help you resolve the issue.

What if You Fire Your Lawyer Before the Case Is Over?

If you switch lawyers or decide to represent yourself, you will probably still owe your former lawyer fees and expenses incurred on the case prior to the switch. Depending on the laws in your state and the language in your fee agreement, your former lawyer may even hold your case file until you pay fees and costs owed to the lawyer. Your former lawyer may also sue you to collect unpaid fees and costs or file an attorney's lien to recover unpaid fees and costs out of the final judgment in your case.

Learn more about firing a personal injury lawyer.

Alternative Types of Fee Arrangements

Contingency fees are only one type of fee arrangement that lawyers use. Other common types of fee arrangements include:

  • Fixed or flat fees. A lawyer charges you a specified amount for a routine legal matter, like a simple will, uncontested divorce, traffic ticket, or expungement.
  • Hourly fee. This is the most typical type of attorney fee arrangement. The lawyer charges a per-hour rate. The rate varies from lawyer to lawyer. Ask the lawyer to estimate the amount of time your case will take, so you understand what your total costs may be from the beginning of the case.
  • Retainer fee. Some lawyers who charge an hourly fee will ask you to put a down payment on their legal services, called a retainer fee. Legal fees are subtracted from the retainer until the retainer is used up. The attorney will then bill you for additional time spent on your case or ask you to pay an additional retainer. A lawyer might also ask you to pay a retainer fee to guarantee the lawyer will be available to take your case or for the lawyer to be on call to handle your legal problems over a period of time.

If you don't want to pay a personal injury lawyer a contingency fee, you might consider hiring a lawyer to give you advice on a particular issue. In an advice-only situation, you might be able to pay the lawyer by the hour. For example, you could hire a lawyer to review a demand letter you plan to send to another driver's insurance company after a car accident. The lawyer would not take over responsibility for your claim, but might spend an hour or two helping you fine-tune your letter to get the best possible settlement offer from the insurance company.

Can I Get the Other Party to Pay My Lawyer Fees?

In the United States, the general rule (called the "American rule") is that—win or lose—you pay for your own lawyer.

The only time you might be able to get the other side to pay your lawyer fees is when:

  • a statute (law) specifically requires the losing side to pay attorneys' fees
  • a contract term calls for payment of attorneys' fees, or
  • a court imposes attorneys' fees on the other side in the interest of justice and fairness.

To learn more about the American Rule and exceptions to the rule, check out: Attorney Fees: Does the Losing Side Have to Pay?

Next Steps

You might be able to save money on lawyers' fees by handling your own claim, but most people benefit from the advice and assistance of a lawyer.

If are looking to sue someone over a car accident, slip and fall, or dog bite, you'll probably have to pay lawyers' fees only if you win your case because most personal injury lawyers work on a contingency basis.

Learn more about when to hire a personal injury lawyer and how to find the right personal injury lawyer. You can also connect with a lawyer directly from this page for free.

Lawyers' Fees in Your Personal Injury Case (2024)


How do you negotiate a contingency fee? ›

For contingency fee arrangements, the higher the likelihood of success in a case, the lower the contingency percentage you may be able to negotiate. Ask whether the attorney offers flat fees instead of hourly charges. Ask if you can set a prearranged maximum for the entire project.

How much do attorneys take from settlement California? ›

Here in California, the contingency fee for a personal injury lawyer successfully winning the case on your behalf is about 33 percent – or one-third of the jury award or settlement.

What is the maximum contingency fee in Alabama? ›

Contingency Fee Cap

Alabama has not placed a cap on the amount that a lawyer can request in a contingency agreement. Alabama injury lawyers generally request between 33% and 40%, but there are several factors that can cause them to increase that amount.

What is the contingency fee for personal injury in California? ›

The attorney's fee will be a percentage of the compensation that you recover either through a settlement with the insurance company or a verdict at trial. A typical contingency fee percentage is anywhere from 30 to 40% of your recovery. Your contingency fee agreement will set out the exact percentage.

How much is contingency usually? ›

How much contingency do I factor in? Industry standard for construction risk contingency is 3-10% of total hard costs. Some developers budget contingency for soft costs as well, typically 1% percent of total project costs or 10-20% of total soft costs.

What types of cases typically Cannot have contingency fee agreements? ›

In the United States, lawyers are unable to use contingency fees for criminal cases, divorce and family law cases, and domestic relations cases, with similar rules in Canada. With criminal cases, there is usually no financial recovery, so using a contingency agreement to cover payment would be useless.

What percentage do most personal injury lawyers take in California? ›

What Are The Average Contingency Fee Percentages? Most California Personal Injury Lawyers set their contingency fees at approximately 33 percent (or a third of the total settlement awarded). However, this percentage can change depending on who you talk to and what your agreements are.

What is the most money awarded in a lawsuit? ›

This lawsuit resulted in a record-breaking settlement of $206 billion, paid by major tobacco companies to 46 US states to cover public health-care costs related to tobacco-induced illnesses. It remains the most substantial legal settlement to date as of 2023.

How long does it take to get money after a settlement in California? ›

Once a settlement has been determined, the victim can expect to receive their settlement check in about six weeks. Some exceptions to the rule exist, and delays can happen. A Fresno personal injury attorney can help you understand the standard personal injury claims process and look into your case.

Why do you need a contingency fee? ›

There are two advantages to having a contingency fee agreement. First, you don't pay fees for legal services up front. Second, if you lose your case, you will not have to pay legal fees to your own lawyer or paralegal.

What is a conditional fee contingency fee? ›

The difference between a conditional and a contingency fee is that under a conditional fee arrangement, a solicitor can charge his client the usual charge out rate, plus an uplift, if he has pursued his clients' case successfully. If the case is not successful then no fee, or a reduced fee, will be payable.

Are contingency fees deductible? ›

Treat the related contingent attorneys' fees as a miscellaneous itemized deduction. Under this treatment, a winning claimant can effectively be forced to pay federal income tax on most or all of the contingent attorneys' fees, even though that fee is subtracted from the amount received by the claimant.

What is a success fee in personal injury cases? ›

A success fee is the amount of compensation a personal injury lawyer can take to cover their general services if your claim is successful. The success fee percentage is capped at 25% by law, meaning that your lawyer or solicitor can only take up to 25% of your compensation.

Do I have to pay taxes on a personal injury settlement in California? ›

Physical Injury Damages

If you receive a settlement for physical injuries sustained as a result of someone else's negligence, the settlement is typically not considered taxable income in California. This includes settlements for medical expenses, lost wages, and other related damages.

How much do accident attorneys charge in California? ›

The car accident lawyer will be paid a percentage of what you recover if you win the case in court or through a settlement in a contingency fee arrangement. In California, the percentage is typically between 30 to 40 % of the total you receive. This means if you lose the case, you don't give any payment to your lawyer.

How do you negotiate with clients who ask for a lower fee? ›

How to handle clients who try to start a price negotiation
  1. Be polite but firm. ...
  2. Be ready to make your case. ...
  3. Don't preach to the client. ...
  4. You don't have to say yes to the discount request. ...
  5. Know your worth. ...
  6. You can fire a client. ...
  7. Sometimes there's a reason behind it. ...
  8. Asking for a lower rate could mean they're a difficult client.
Aug 2, 2022

How do you negotiate a contract price down? ›

  1. Don't make the first major concession. ...
  2. If you are a buyer don't give the seller a quick counter-offer to the asking price. ...
  3. Be stingy with your concessions and leave room to negotiate. ...
  4. Buyers should always try to get cost breakdowns. ...
  5. Don't say “yes” too quickly. ...
  6. Plead to a higher authority. ...
  7. Shut up. ...
  8. Be skeptical.

How do you negotiate a price reduction in real estate? ›

7 Tips for House Price Negotiation
  1. Assess housing market conditions. ...
  2. Be ready to haggle. ...
  3. Consider contingencies. ...
  4. Get your mortgage loan ready. ...
  5. Inspect the house. ...
  6. Negotiate within reason. ...
  7. Work with a real estate agent.
Jan 12, 2022


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