How Much Do Car Accident Lawyers Charge in Pennsylvania?
Pennsylvania car accident lawyers typically charge nothing upfront and $0 out of pocket. Instead of billing clients hourly, they take cases on contingency. Contingency fee arrangements defer legal fees until the client receives a monetary settlement or award. When the defense remits payment, the law firm deducts legal fees from the gross proceeds.
Plaintiffs pay nothing unless they collect.
Contingency fee agreements also cover additional expenses related to the lawsuit. For instance, some cases require the testimony of an expert witness. Expert witnesses charge for their time researching the case and testifying to their conclusions. As with legal fees, the law firm deducts expert witness charges and other costs from the settlement or award.
Contingency fees make it possible for car accident injury victims to obtain justice even if they have no money for attorney’s fees. In addition, they remove financial pressure from plaintiffs and assist attorneys in establishing strong negotiating positions. Without contingency fees, many victims would never receive compensation for their injuries.
The Benefits of Contingency Fees in Pennsylvania
Contingency fees allow car accident victims to litigate their claims for many years without becoming mired in legal debt. They also allow plaintiffs to hire expert witnesses, gain a superior negotiating position, and focus their resources on healing.
Contingency Fees Eliminate Upfront Payments
The average hourly rate for a personal injury lawyer in Pennsylvania comes in at $243. Lawyers can spend hundreds of hours on a case and thousands on a complex claim that goes to trial. For example, a wrongful death claim that proceeds to trial and appeal can easily result in thousands of hours of legal work at a price tag that few plaintiffs could afford upfront.
Imagine if you had to pay a legal retainer upon hiring a lawyer and then receive additional legal bills as the case progresses. Such a fee structure disadvantages plaintiffs because they must come up with a large initial retainer and then face monthly legal bills that often add up to much more than the retainer.
For example, an hourly attorney may ask for a $5,000 security retainer. The client must pay this amount before the attorney starts work on the case. The law firm then deposits these funds into an escrow account. As the attorneys rack up billable hours, the firm withdraws the fees from escrow. At $243 per hour, this equates to 20.57 billable hours, enough to cover the very beginning of a lawsuit, such as reviewing documents, interviewing witnesses, and drafting a complaint.
Once the law firm depletes the money in escrow, it begins charging the client directly for all the billable hours contained in a month. During the quiet phases of a lawsuit, such as the time between filing a complaint and starting the discovery process, the monthly bills may only contain a few billable hours. However, in times of heavy litigation activity, such as depositions, monthly billable hours may exceed the initial retainer.
Several phases exist during a lawsuit where attorneys must put in long hours.
Discovery begins after the lawsuit is filed. It is a process where each side has the opportunity to gather and develop evidence using the power of the court. In addition, attorneys have the right to see the other party’s evidence to prepare for the next phase of litigation and possibly trial.
Initially, discovery involves investigating the car accident claim by obtaining documents, such as accident reports and medical records, and interviewing witnesses, such as the plaintiff and vehicle passengers. In addition, the plaintiff’s lawyers demand to examine critical pieces of evidence held by the defendant(s).
The early parts of a case also require interrogatories, which are written questions prepared for the opposing party’s witnesses. For instance, the defense requires the plaintiff to answer interrogatories, and the plaintiff’s attorneys in a car accident case demand the other driver respond to interrogatories. Other witnesses may also be included.
Once the initial stages of discovery are complete, lawyers depose the other side’s witnesses. Depositions are face-to-face interviews conducted under oath with a court reporter. Everything said in a deposition can be used at trial, and perjury penalties apply to any party who answers dishonestly.
The prior stages of discovery help attorneys prepare for depositions. In addition, they must formulate questions for depositions and prepare their witnesses for their depositions. The depositions themselves can take many hours, depending on the complexity of the case and the number of witnesses.
Up to this point, depositions are the most expensive part of the process.
Court Hearings and Settlement Conferences
Attorneys must attend court hearings and settlement conferences. Many judges require at least one pre-trial settlement conference. Also, attorneys must prepare for critical hearings, such as a motion for summary judgment by the defense. The plaintiff must file an effective response to a motion for summary judgment or risk having the case thrown out of court.
Most personal injury cases settle before the trial date. Nevertheless, a jury must hear a small percentage. A trial can easily take 50-plus hours in preparation time and many more hours for the trial itself. Complex cases require many times the average number of hours.
After a civil trial, either side can appeal. Appeals are not relitigation of the case. The jury serves as the trier of fact, and appeals cannot overrule the jury’s findings. However, appellate courts can return the case to the lower court for retrial. This occurs when the appellate panel decides that the trial court made an error, such as disallowing a pivotal piece of evidence that would likely have impacted the jury’s findings.
Appeals work is time-consuming and labor-intensive, requiring many hours of painstaking research and detailed argumentation. Because of this, appeals can result in more billable hours than the trial.
If personal injury plaintiffs had to pay an upfront retainer and then the monthly bills as the litigation progresses, most could never afford to bring their case to court.
Contingency Fees Help Plaintiffs Gain Leverage
Because most civil cases settle before trial, gaining leverage in negotiations is a key facet of a successful legal strategy. Insurance companies pay the settlements in most cases, and their business model rests upon reducing payouts. Therefore, defense attorneys work hard to undermine the plaintiff’s claim and justify a lower payout.
For instance, defense attorneys often use Pennsylvania’s comparative negligence law to claim that the plaintiff’s damages should be less. Under comparative negligence, a plaintiff may be found partly at fault for a car accident. In that case, a court reduces the award by the percentage of the liability it assigns to the plaintiff. This would result in a $100,000 award being reduced to $75,000 if the court believes the plaintiff to be 25% at fault.
The defense may insist that the plaintiff accept an unfair proportion of the blame and threaten to take the case to trial if she refuses. Because trials can delay the plaintiff’s compensation by months or years, this gives the defense leverage if the victim needs the money sooner. If the plaintiff had to pay legal fees out of pocket, the defense would have far greater leverage because the victim would face the prospect of running out of money before trial or owing hefty legal fees, and never collecting a judgment.
Contingency fees solve this problem for plaintiffs. They have no reason to fear running out of money or owing legal bills. In addition, the insurance company must spend large sums to go to trial, risking losing far more money than if they paid the claim. As a result, plaintiffs can afford to reject lowball offers and gain leverage from the prospect of a trial.
Contingency Fees Cover Other Expenses in Pennsylvania
Legal fees are only part of the cost of a lawsuit. As the process advances, the plaintiff becomes responsible for additional costs, such as administrative fees. Contingency fee arrangements cover these costs, so the plaintiff never runs into the problem of being unable to afford them.
In addition to billable hours, contingency fee agreements cover court fees, expert witness testimony, and the costs of court reporters.
Contingency Fees Allow Car Accident Victims to Focus on Healing in Pennsylvania
A severe car accident injury can upend your life. Injuries like broken bones, head trauma, and organ damage may cause intense physical pain. In addition, medical treatment quickly leads to bills in the tens of thousands of dollars or more. On top of the expenses, you may also be unable to work, resulting in lost income.
Imagine being injured, facing tens of thousands in medical bills, and losing your income. Then, to pursue damages from the responsible party(s), you have to fund a lawsuit by paying thousands and thousands of dollars in legal fees. For most people, this presents an impossible situation.
Contingency fees relieve the burden of funding a lawsuit you cannot afford. Through this financial framework, you are free to keep your focus where it should be: On healing your injuries.
You deserve compensation if you have sustained a car accident injury because of someone else’s negligence or recklessness. Even if you are partly at fault, you do not have to suffer from high medical bills, lost income, and uncompensated pain and suffering.
Consult with a Pennsylvania Car Accident Lawyer
Contact Mattiacci Law for a free car accident legal consultation. Our firm specializes in extracting large settlements and awards from resistant insurance companies.
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