How much does it cost to prosecute my car accident case? What does a contingency fee mean? Attorney Ben Schwartz explains.
Hi, I’m Attorney Ben Schwartz.
Today, we’re going to answer a frequently asked question in personal injury cases: How much does it cost to prosecute my car accident personal injury case?
It will not cost you anything to see a personal injury attorney, talk about your rights and find out if you have a case. If you open a personal injury claim, your attorney will take your case on what’s called a contingent fee basis, meaning the attorney will only get paid if you win or settle the case. Personal injury attorneys usually advance the costs of prosecuting the case.
But, how much does it actually cost to prosecute the case? Remember, your attorney is advancing the costs and not requiring you to pay the costs of prosecution as the case is rolling along. When you get your settlement, those costs come back out of the award. It’s good to know how much this process costs and what are the types of things that you’re spending money on so that you can participate in the prosecution of your case. It’s very important for a client in a personal injury case due to a car accident to understand what’s going on and know what’s being spent. When you get to the end of your case and sit down to look at the settlement sheet, you will see where those disbursements were made. You will see the list of everything that money was spent on, and you’re not going to feel shocked.
Let’s say we’re going to file a lawsuit in the state of Delaware, which is where I primarily practice. We’re going to prosecute a personal injury case. The court charges about $200 to file the complaint. We serve the defendant with the lawsuit papers (if there’s one defendant) and we send out a Delaware sheriff to serve the defendant with the lawsuit papers. That will cost us about $30 ($35 if there are two defendants at the same address). From that point on, we are incurring costs. If there’s an appeal, we’re incurring costs as well.
Costs can include:
#1. Obtaining all of the client’s medical records from treatment for the car accident. Medical providers can charge hundreds of dollars to copy medical records and provide them to us.
#2. Obtaining all of the client’s medical records from before the car accident. We need to prove the injuries were not pre-existing.
#3. Requiring medical testimony from a physician. We’ve got to get a report produced by the physician to say: here’s what the injuries are, here are the conditions that resulted from the accident. This report may also address any future need for care, surgery, etc. These can cost $200-300 or even upwards of $1,000.
#4. Fronting costs for depositions and a transcript of the deposition; Depositions are question-and-answer sessions taken down by a court reporter. After the deposition, we need a transcript. This can run $200, $300, $400 a pop. If our client gives a deposition and we also take the deposition of the at-fault driver, then we’re looking at maybe $500 or $600 for transcripts.
#5. Incurring costs for the trial fee. In Delaware, the trial fee is $150 as charged by the court.
#6. Paying for arbitration or mediation. If we’re going to go to an alternative dispute resolution conference, either in arbitration or mediation, your attorney will pay the attorney who conducts the mediation. They generally charge $400 an hour or more.
#7. Fronting costs for a physician’s expert testimony. In the Superior Court in Delaware, you cannot rely on the written report of the physician. You actually need physician testimony. When we’re preparing a case for trial, we often pay for a physician to do a videotaped deposition. We go to the physician’s office after hours and take the physician’s testimony. We ask them the same questions we would ask them if they appeared live at trial, but we videotape it and record it using a court reporter, stenographically. When we get to trial, we play the videotape for the jury. The jury can hear from the physician and establish that the accident caused injuries, what the diagnosis is, what the future care is going to be, whether there’s a permanent impairment resulting from the injuries from the accident, etc. We need to pay the physician for taking time out of his or her schedule, which can cost several thousand dollars. Most physicians charge us $2000, $3000, $4000 to do a deposition. We have to pay the videographer’s fees and the court reporter fee. You’re looking at spending an additional $3000, $4000, $5000.
If you are a plaintiff who was injured in an accident and you’ve hired an attorney, whether that attorney is me or one of the attorneys in my office or an attorney in a different law office, you should be in contact from time-to-time with the attorney that’s representing you. Maybe there’s a case manager or paralegal who is helping you with the case. You should ask questions about what the costs are. Sometimes attorneys don’t tell their clients what their expenses are. When you add it all up, your costs can range from $1000, $1,500, $2,000 just to prosecute the case and don’t go to trial. If you’re going to trial, then you will incur some additional expenses. Clients are often in-the-dark until the last moment and don’t know that their attorney is spending several thousand dollars on their personal injury car accident case. They are surprised to find out that so much money has come out of their settlement.
If you’ve been in a car accident, hire an attorney and want to keep tabs on how much the attorney is spending on the car accident case, just ask. Make a point of regularly meeting with your attorney or the attorney’s case manager. You can ask: how much are you guys spending on the case? Are there any new expenses? Are you anticipating any upcoming expenses? You can be an informed participant in the litigation of your personal injury claim.