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Hurt in an accident? This is how legal fees work -- and what to look for in an attorney

Do you know who to contact after an accident? (Artyom Kulakov/Pexels stock image)

If you’re hurt in a car accident or a personal injury case, would you know where to turn? Would you know what to expect financially?

Depending on your circumstances, there might be a lot to sort through. It could feel overwhelming. But that shouldn’t be the case. There are experts who can help you through this challenging time.

And although everything shouldn’t come down to money, financial matters are usually a pretty important part of the equation when it comes to working with an attorney or pursuing legal action; for example, in the case of a car crash.

Let’s review some considerations, should you ever find yourself in a position like this.

Legal fees 101

There are two ways legal fees traditionally work: One way is for the client to pay by the hour, and the lawyer charges for his or her time.

“But this can be expensive,” said Michael T. Gibson, lead attorney and president of Auto Justice Attorney, a firm in Orlando. “Most people don’t have sufficient funds to pay in this manner.”

The other option is paying on a contingent fee basis.

“In lieu of paying a lawyer by the hour, the lawyer is instead entitled to a percentage of the recovery, if they’re successful in the case,” Gibson said. “So what it does is saves a client from having to pay out of pocket, that money just to pursue a case.”

When it comes to contingency fees, the lawyer is the one taking a risk -- not a person who’s potentially been injured in an accident.

Another way to say it? You won’t be paying an upfront retainer for a legal team’s services. Instead, they’ll deduct attorney’s fees from any compensation they secure for you in the form of a settlement or court-awarded damages.

Contingency fees are pretty standard in personal injury and accident cases, Gibson said.

A firsthand look

It’s important to know what you’re signing up for, and who you’ll be working with.

Gibson knows all too well. He got into this line of work because growing up, his mother suffered in a bad auto accident, and his family went through a personal injury case.

“We weren’t a family with a great amount of money. In fact, we were pretty poor at the time,” Gibson said. “Going through it from a client’s perspective, I got to see and experience what was fair. There are lawyer fees, medical fees -- you name it. Seeing what the stresses are, what the medical treatment entails, figuring out how to pay day-to-day bills while figuring out how to get your life back … It helped me realize the real-life stresses. The experience shaped me.”

When it comes to legal fees at his firm, Gibson even has a “More For You” guarantee.

“My client, the injury victim, should and will always receive more of a settlement than I, the injury lawyer,” Gibson said. “Having been through these cases first as a client, in my own family, I came to appreciate that it is your injury and your pain that prompted a settlement in the first place. Thus, I have built my firm around this simple fundamental principle.”

So if a recovery is made in your case, Gibson will ensure that you receive more of the settlement proceeds than the firm.

“It’s just a fundamental rule of fairness, based on my own experience,” he said.

Auto Justice Attorney handles about 1,300 to 1,500 of these cases a year.

Look for these things

So, what else should you seek out in an attorney?

Consider the lawyer’s experience, his or her practice in this type of law, whether they know the courts, the insurance companies and the overall system, Gibson said.

There’s a lot to navigate.

Look for a person or a group who can help you through the experience, Gibson recommended, as someone who has been on both sides.

“You want someone frank and honest about what your options are,” Gibson said. “Some of the worst experiences people have with lawyers is when attorneys say what you want to hear, but not what you need to hear.”

He recommended seeking out professionals who value open communication and who have a background of success with these types of cases.

Each accident, the case itself, the facts and the available insurance money -- it’s all going to be different, every time. Look for someone who can serve as a guide, Gibson said.

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