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Determining The Viability Of A Personal Injury Claim In California

Interviewer: So, all things considered, what makes these cases viable?

Roy Comer: I’m honest with my clients from the beginning. I think it is important for the client to understand what they’re up against and what they can expect from the process. I have read so many web pages and blurbs of other lawyers, and it seems that nobody talks about what the client can expect. As a younger lawyer, when I didn’t explain this to my client in the initial interview, sometimes they would say at the end, “Well, if I’d have known this when I first signed up, I would have done somethings completely differently.”

Personal Injury Cases are Usually Handled on Contingency Fee Basis

Interviewer: Do people know that you accept cases on contingency? Do they realize that you get a percentage of the final recovery?

Roy Comer: Most of them do, but I always bring up the issue of fees in the initial interview because I don’t want them to be thinking that there is any mystery involved in this process. I basically tell them that there are three major ways to hire a lawyer:

  • One: You can hire an attorney on an hourly basis. The lawyer charges you for the time invested and you get a bill every month. It’s for the time that he or she has invested in your case and you get as much lawyer as you need, no more and no less.
  • Two: You can hire a lawyer on a flat fee basis. In that kind of case, there is one charge for all work done, and the fee is paid at the beginning of the matter. The lawyer could take a personal injury case on a flat fee, but the fee might be so high that it would become a windfall to the lawyer, or it could be so low that it would be unfair compensation. Furthermore, the fee is paid whether the client wins or loses. So most clients don’t want to use a flat fee because they’re afraid that they’d pay the money now and they may not see any money at the conclusion of the case.
  • Three: The third way to handle a case, and I would say 99 per cent of personal injury cases that I’ve handled in my life, is on a contingency percentage basis. The contingency means that unless there is a recovery on behalf of the client, there is no fee and if there is a settlement or a verdict resulting in a recovery on behalf of the client, then the attorney is paid a percentage of that recovery. Most people have heard of that system and most expect the case to be handled on a contingency-percentage basis.

A Client May Ask the Attorney to Do a Combination of the Flat Fee and the Contingency Fee

A fourth alternative is rare but sometimes I’ve done this: a combination flat fee and contingency-percentage fee agreement. For instance, the client may come in with a claim with insufficient information to determine the merits of it. The client would pay an agreed-upon flat fee. The attorney investigates the liability, damages, and collectability of the claim. If the investigation reveals the claim has merit, the contract turns into a contingency-percentage fee agreement and the amount paid is credited against the contingency-percentage recovery down the line.

In Certain Kinds of Cases, the Attorney’s Fee is Subject to Approval by a Judge

In some cases, such as a case brought by a minor in California, or medical negligence cases, the attorney’s fees are subject to approval by a judge. So, be sure to ask the attorney if the kind of case you want to pursue is governed by some statute.

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